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100 not out.

Despite warnings that the UK is suffering an obesity epidemic, children play computer games, rather than sport, 10% of them cannot ride a bike and 15% cannot swim, demographic experts have warned society needs to radically re-think pensions, if it is to cope with the ever-increasing numbers of centenarians.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), says more than a quarter of today’s under-16s can expect to live beyond 100.

Of the UK’s 60 million population, 11 million will become centenarians and pensions minister, Steve Webb, says the state pension system must be made “fair and sustainable for future generations”, if people are going to spend more than a third of their lives in retirement.

Head of policy, at the International Longevity Centre, David Sinclair, says that while the increase in longevity is a “huge success” for society, it will come at a price. He said: “The impact on service provision will be huge and society is heading towards huge fiscal service pressures.”

There will be increased pressures on government to provide for its elderly citizens and this is likely to have a knock-on effect on the next generations. Essentially, the old will have to pay, or someone else will. It is possible the increased presence of the very old will improve society’s attitudes towards them, or it could lead to resentment.

Sinclair says: “The pessimistic side is that there is a real risk that it could generate even more intergenerational tensions, if you end up with a clash for resources between young and old. That is what we really need to avoid.”

Jane Falkingham, director of the ESRC Centre for Population Change, believes one of the challenges will be deciding when to work and when to have children. She says: “Despite medical advances, the most fertile period for women to have children, will remain their 20s and 30s.”

“One question is whether it makes sense to juggle work and family life, or whether, in future, we invest in parenthood and then invest in work; and work into our 70s.”

This approach would require a rethinking of the welfare state. Falkingham says: “If people are going to restructure their lives and have their children first and then work, they will need money to live while they are having children, before they pay it back through work. It is about how the welfare state can operate across the life course, as well as how individuals structure their lives.”

Currently Britain has the one of the lowest life expectancies in western Europe, while Japan has the largest number of old people in the world. Danny Dorling, professor of human geography at Sheffield University, says: “Japan also has one of the lowest global incomes and probably the greatest wealth inequalities in the rich world.”

Professor Michael Marmot, of University College London, also points to levels of inequality requiring “radical rethinking about what the nature of the life course looks like in a changed society”.

Prof Marmot says: “We’ll have some people working all their lives and not having nearly as much time to enjoy their pensions, and others working as long, but having decades to enjoy their pensions, because their life expectancy is much longer.”

In a health and equality review, produced for the government, he called for steps to be taken to reduce this inequality, warning that if they were not, the projections on longevity would mean “longer, healthier lives for some, but not for others. It will not be uniform by any means.”

‘I hope I die before I get old’ – My Generation (The Who)

Nigel Phillips

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