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12% leave work before state pension begins

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436,000 workers within five years of state pension age leave the workplace for medical reasons

Almost one in eight (12%) employees are forced to stop working before reaching state pension age because of ill health or disability, according to a report from the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

Postponing the pension: are we all working longer? found that nearly half a million (436,000) workers who are within five years of state pension age have had to leave the workplace for medical reasons.

The report follows the government's announcement in March of an independent review into the state pension age. The findings are due to be published in May. The state pension age is set to rise to 65 for both men and women by November 2018 and 67 by 2028.

But TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady warned that its report confirms that raising the state pension age is too simplistic an approach to increasing the number of people working into later life.

“Raising the state pension age is an easy target for chancellors of the exchequer wanting to make stealth cuts,” she said. “But these figures show that we must hold off on any further rises in the pension age until we have worked out how to support the one in eight workers who are too ill to work before they even get to state pension age.

“People should be able to retire in dignity with a decent pension when the time is right. Older workers have a crucial role to play in the labour market but we can’t expect the sick to wait longer to get a pension when they may need financial support more than ever.”

The TUC report also found a significant north/south divide. In Northern Ireland nearly a quarter (24%) of workers within five years of the state pension age had left employment because of sickness or disability; the highest percentage in the UK. Wales, Scotland, Yorkshire and the Humber, the North East and the North West were joint second with 14%, and London came third at 13%. The South West is the least affected at 8%.

Those in the lowest-paid jobs or in manual work are twice as likely to stop working for health reasons than managers or professionals.

The TUC suggests that employers consider offering staff the right to flexible working from their first day in a job, to help facilitate a working pattern that fits the needs of employees. It also recommends employers offer a ‘mid-life career review', with an increased focus on health issues and advice about free NHS health checks for 40- to 74-year-olds.