Figures showing life expectancy improvement rates have significantly slowed are unlikely to prompt the government to rethink planned state pension age hikes, AJ Bell has said.

Data from the Continuous Mortality Institute, released on 1 March, suggested life expectancy improvements between 2011 and 2017 were “significantly lower” than any other recent six-year period.

AJ Bell said the slowing life expectancy improvements is likely to stir controversy because the government is preparing to accelerate increases in the state pension age.

The state pension age is set to rise to 66 for men and women by 2020, before increasing to 67 by 2028 and 68 by 2039 – seven years earlier than under previous plans.

Senior analyst Tom Selby said: “Nobody wants to be told they are going to have to work for longer, particularly if they have a physically demanding or stressful job.

“However, the reality is the government’s decision to increase the state pension age has been decades in the making and anyone desperately hoping for a government U-turn shouldn’t hold their breath.”

He added: “Anyone saving for retirement today needs to assume the state pension age will be pushed back and plan accordingly.

“Indeed, workers in their 20s and 30s probably need to prepare for a state pension age of 70 or even older by saving as much as they can, as early as they can, taking advantage of tax relief and matched contributions from their workplace scheme.”

Vast differences

Elsewhere, the Office for National Statistics has highlighted vast differences in the life expectancy of different groups in society.

Data showed that the least deprived males at birth in 2014 to 2016 could expect to live almost a decade longer than the most deprived. For females, the gap was just over seven years.

Selby said: “The huge differences in life expectancy for different parts of society represent a massive challenge to policymakers and the UK pensions system more widely. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers.

“There is evidence a range of factors from wealth to lifestyle and geographic location have a bearing on how long someone might live in retirement, and how much they might receive from the state as a result.”

“It is important we have an open and frank debate about the balance between simplicity and fairness in the state pension,” he added.

Selby suggested allowing people early access to their state pension at a reduced rate. He said the option would mitigate the disadvantage currently experienced by those with lower life expectancies.

“The government could also potentially allow unreduced access to the state pension after a set number of years’ National Insurance contributions,” he said.

“Both of these measures are worth considering, although neither is a silver bullet to end pension inequality overnight.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady urged the government not to ignore the statistics.

“Hiking the state pension age would be a big mistake,” she said. “Life expectancy for women on low incomes is falling, as the gap between rich and poor grows.

“Forcing people to wait longer for their pension will punish those who have least.”