When in 1651 Thomas Hobbes speculated that life could be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short he certainly did not have in mind the many people over 65 living in poverty in 2011. However, if we said that their lives are poor, nasty and short we would not be far off the mark –according to a study by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
A recent paper by the ONS looks at inequalities in disability-free life expectancy (DLFE) by area deprivation. DFLE is the number of years an individual is expected to live without a limiting chronic illness or disability. For the UK as a whole, DFLE at age 65 stands at 10.1 years for males and 10.6 years for females. Since 2003, it has virtually stalled both for men and women. Looking across the UK constituent countries, we notice that there have been some improvements in Wales whereas in Scotland and Northern Ireland, men have seen their DFLE reduce since 2004.
With life expectancy on the rise, the figures above denote that the population aged 65 can only expect to live about 58 per cent of their remaining life free from limiting chronic illness or disability – with women aged 65 in Northern Ireland only expected to live as little as 46.9 per cent of their remaining life free from disability.
It is well known that life expectancy presents wide geographical variation according to the relative wealth of the area: people in more affluent areas are expected to live longer. The ONS paper adds two darker elements to this already depressing result:
Firstly, older residents in poorer neighbourhoods are not only expected to live shorter lives but they are expected to live a higher proportion of their shorter lives in bad health. To illustrate, 13.6 per cent of men aged 65 in the twentieth least deprived areas present a limiting long-standing illness in England against an enormous 23 per cent in the twentieth most deprived neighbourhoods. Furthermore, men aged 65 in wealthier areas can expect to live 67 per cent of the 19.3 years of their remaining lives free from a limiting chronic illness or disability whilst those residing in the poorer parts of the country can expect to live only 16.7 years -and merely 57.7 per cent of these disability-free.
Secondly, the disparity has increased over time. The difference in DFLE between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ has increased, for men, from 4.2 years in 2001-04 to 5.6 years by 2005-08, and for women, from 4 years to 4.4 years over the same period.
Age UK has persistently raised concerns about the impact of the rise in State Pension Age, especially on women, given that the poorest could be hit hardest as they have a lower life expectancy. Now, none other than the Office for National Statistics itself, tells us that older residents in poorer neighbourhoods suffer from a triple whammy: a lower life expectancy, a lower disability-free life expectancy and a higher proportion of their shortened lives in bad health.
So it seems that for older people whose lives are poor, it is more likely that they are going to be shorter, and on account of their health, nastier for proportionally longer.