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Longer life? Don't count on it

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Nobody, least of all George Osborne, really knows how long we are going to live says Teresa Hunter

You can’t blame the ONS, which is only reporting what the experts say.

What would we do without our experts, cast adrift on a sea of our own ignorance? We could never have guessed globalisation removed all risk from our economies, dicing and slicing mortgage packages meant triple A quality, our banks were the strongest in the world……oh how I could go on.

Which brings us back to life expectancy. As long as 4,000 years ago, the bible, without the help of modern actuarial science, put man’s average span on this earth at three score and ten.

During the Black Death, civil war, religious inquisitions, industrial revolution and world wars this was more an aspiration than a realistic prospect. Even so, walk around any church yard, and you can see while many didn’t make it, many did and beyond. Averages are like that.

With the advent of the NHS and health and safety laws, it was a given that more of us would. Rationing too, which guaranteed the average working family a balanced diet for the first time, played a part. We put the whole nation on a healthy diet, and I’m not sure my parents’ generation ever came off it. Frugal was their middle name. Butter, sugar and bacon were restricted from 1940 until 1954. They were also rationed between 1918 and 1920. Every GPs dream.

The eradication of poverty in old age, through the introduction of state, and importantly final salary pensions, also provided an incentive for holding on to ( rather than shuffling off) our mortal coil. There were cruises to go on, well someone had to, grandchildren to spoil and big family celebrations to host.

Not for much longer. Chancellor George Osborne says he will increase pension ages in line with rising longevity.

What nonsense. There is no conceivable way he can pay us a pension based on our longevity, because until we are all dead, he has no idea what it is.

He should have said: “We’ll save a few billion more by making you wait longer for your pension, and hope to get away with it by hiding behind dodgy figures from the actuarial profession.”

I say dodgy, because have you looked at them recently? They put life expectancy at 2035 in a range between 81 and 112, a margin of error of a third of a normal life span.

“The demise of final salary pensions spells curtains for the good life in retirement. The public is clamouring for the right to die, thereby curtailing the Frankenstein wing of the BMA”

To confuse matters further, actuaries produce two sets of longevity numbers. “Period” are based on known improvements in life expectancy. “Cohort” allow for life expectancy to continue improving at the current speed. The cohort numbers have us all living as old as Father Time, yet the period results are closer to those of the bible.

Yet cohort statistics are being used to decide the future of pensions. But why should life expectancy go on increasing at the rate of the last 60 years? What event can match the creation of the NHS and the welfare state, the removals of Victorian slums, improvements in industrial practices, and the eradication of absolute poverty?

True, we have been blessed with McDonald’s and KFC. We sit for 10 hours a day in front of a computer, walking is no longer a compulsory human activity. Our ” have it all culture”, has crammed our lives full, burning candles at every end, with women working as well as raising a family.

The demise of final salary pensions spells curtains for the good life in retirement. The public is clamouring for the right to die, thereby curtailing the Frankenstein wing of the BMA.

Anecdotally, my older acquaintances and siblings seem to be dropping like flies as soon as they hit 60. Of course, scientists could come up with a cure for cancer. But until they do, I shan’t be banking on living for ever, so please stop moving the pensions goalposts George.

Teresa Hunter is a freelance journalist

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