Difference in mortality rates compared with 2001 in those aged 75 and over, 2002 to 2016

After decades of steady improvement, death rates in England appear to have been stagnant since 2011. Writing in a British Medical Journal editorial, Mark Fransham and Danny Dorling note that whilst this change has been recognised by the pensions industry, it has yet to be recognised by public health officials and politicians.

In reports released within days of each other, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) analysed the most recent data on deaths in England. The ONS analysis highlighted a lower death rate in 2016 compared to 2015, and that life expectancy in 2016 was higher than in 2015. In rather different conclusions, the IFoA report reported that death rates had not improved since 2011 and that mortality rates were 11% higher than would have been expected if the improvements had continued.

The IFoA report concludes that life expectancy for a 65 year-old woman in 2017 is now 6 months less than they had previously projected. The professional services firm PwC have estimated that this could reduce UK company pension deficits by 310 billion. In contrast, UK public health officials have yet to fully recognise this apparent shift. The change in mortality trends coincided with a radical shift in public policy - the austerity policies of David Cameron's coalition government elected in 2010 - and this is a plausible cause. Pensioner poverty rates, for example, declined significantly during the 2000s but also stopped improving after 2011. Fransham and Dorling argue that the failure to investigate these causes could lead to years of life lost to millions of people.