Average healthy life expectancy at birth remained relatively flat across the UK between 2015-17 and 2018-20, new ONS data shows.
UK male healthy life expectancy was down by almost 4 months, while female healthy life expectancy was static.
In Scotland there was a statistically significant drop of more than a year in male healthy life expectancy during the period.
Female healthy life expectancy in Scotland also fell by almost 11 months.
In England, male healthy life expectancy dropped by almost 10 months in the East Midlands, while for females in the region there was a decline of almost 4 months.
There are big regional differences in healthy life expectancy at birth across EnglandMale healthy life expectancy in the South East was 65.5 years in 2018-20.
By contrast, male healthy life in the North East was just 59.1 years.
Tom Selby, head of retirement policy at AJ Bell, comments: “There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that life expectancy improvements have not only ground to a halt, but in some regions of the UK gone into reverse.
“This comes after decades of near-unbroken increases in average life expectancy for both men and women, driven in part by rapid improvements in healthcare.
“Average life expectancy isn’t the only measure that matters, however – for most people how long they live in good health will be a key determinant of their quality of life in retirement.
“It may also have significant implications for their cost-of-living in later life – particularly if they need to pay for care.”
Regional life expectancy differences
“While average healthy life expectancy at birth has been static in recent years, this masks wide disparities between different regions of the UK.
“The figures for Scotland are perhaps the most worrying, with healthy life expectancy at birth plummeting by over a year for males and almost 11 months for females.
“The picture for the rest of the UK is mixed. In the East Midlands, for example, male healthy life expectancy has fallen by almost 10 months, while for females the decline has been around 4 months.
“By contrast, in the East of England and the North West healthy life expectancy has edged up for both men and women.
“We also see big differences in the number of years people in different regions can expect to live in good health. This is most stark between males born in the North East and South East, where there is a gap of over 6 years in healthy life expectancy favouring the South East.”
Implications for retirement policy
“Understanding why this is happening will be a key challenge for policymakers across Government.
“Most obviously, the review of planned increases to the state pension age being undertaken by Baroness Neville-Rolfe will need to consider whether these increases remain appropriate in light of the latest evidence.
“There may also be calls to means-test the state pension or tweak the system so some of the regional differences that clearly exist can be better taken into account.
“However, the danger in going down this route is that you will layer on unwelcome complexity and add huge costs to administering the system. The more you try to take account of individual circumstances, the more complicated and expensive the system will become.”