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Illness forces 1 in 8 to quit work before State Pension

A new report from the TUC, the trade union umbrella body representing 5.5m workers, has revealed that 1 in 8 men and women (12%) are forced to stop working before state pension age due to ill-health or disability.

The report – Extending working lives: how to support older workers – found that more than half a million (534,876) workers aged 60 to 65 have had to leave the workplace due to medical reasons.

The TUC has warned that hundreds of thousands of older workers are being “consigned to poverty” due to ill health.   

Retirement ages are also being pushed back, the report found. Between 2000 and 2020 the average exit age for men from the workforce increased by almost two years from 63.3 years to 65.2 years. For women the increase was just over three years, from 61.2 years to 64.3 years.

The TUC says its report reveals a “stark” income and class divide with lower paid workers facing the worst outcomes.

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People who left the labour market early while working in low-income jobs – like cleaning, care and manual labour – were six times more likely to quit due to medical reasons than those in higher-paid jobs.

An estimated 1 in 3 low-paid workers who left their jobs before state pension age did so because of ill health. In contrast, just 1 in 20 professionals who left the labour market early did so because of long-term sickness.

The report’s analysis also showed significant regional disparities. In the South West of England and the West Midlands, 1 in 12 people aged 60 to 66 have left work due to long-term sickness or disability.

But this rises to:

  • 1 in 7 in Yorkshire and the Humber and Wales
  • 1 in 6 the North East
  • 1 in 5 in Northern Ireland

The TUC says that plans to increase the state pension age while the healthy life expectancy gap between rich and poor areas is growing would deepen inequalities further.

Healthy life expectancy for women in the most deprived parts of the country is falling, and if the scheduled increases go ahead, by the end of the decade they can expect more than 16 years of ill health before they can draw their state pension, the TUC says.

The TUC is calling on the government to urgently work with unions and employers to  develop training programmes for older workers. Older workers who lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic will face greater barriers getting back into work, warns the union body.

The TUC wants to see:

  • More support to help workers who need or choose to work later in life identify and get access to training or resources they need, and better rights to work flexibly.
  • Reform to the social security system so that it provides an adequate safety net for workers of all ages, and with increased flexibility around how retirement age benefits are accessed.
  • Shelving planned increases to the state pension age beyond the current level of 66 and setting up a cross-party commission to establish a new consensus on the state pension age that takes into account trends in longevity improvements and health inequalities across the population.

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TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “People should be able to retire in dignity with a decent pension when the time is right. But many older workers are being forced to stop work earlier due to ill health. They must not be consigned to years of poverty.

“The government should stop plans for further rises in the pension age and focus on improving support for people who are too ill to work.  And tackle the health inequalities that are causing it. With healthy life expectancy falling for women in poorer areas ministers need to reverse this alarming trend – not make them wait even longer for their pension.”

Number of 60-66 year-olds forced to retire early due to ill health


Total long-term sick or injured

Percentage long-term sick or injured

Northern Ireland



North East






Yorkshire and Humberside






North West



East Midlands






South East



East of England



West Midlands



South West



All UK



Source: Trades Union Congress. A copy of the report can be found here:

• The TUC research is based on analysis of the ONS Labour Force Survey and DWP data.

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