Landmark report reveals grim realities of life for Britain's over 50s

Tuesday 15 February 2011

Landmark report reveals grim realities of life for Britain's over 50s

  • Deep concerns about cost of living, income and unemployment hit quality of life
  • Policymakers warned as pre-retirees and lowest socio-economic groups suffer most

The Saga Quarterly Report, a comprehensive analysis of the lives of Britain's 21 million over 50s, has uncovered a bleak picture. The Report, published today, is the first authoritative study to combine serious economic analysis with evidence on well-being, happiness, worries and living standards of over 50s. It makes grim reading. Click here to download the Saga Quarterly Report.

The quality of life for the over 50s is worsening as they are suffering falling income, rising inflation and higher unemployment. They report being increasingly worried about the cost of living and are cutting back on life's pleasures, such as eating out and holidays. Hardest hit are 50-59 year olds, and the lower socioeconomic groups across all over 50 age bands are suffering disproportionately.

"People sometimes paint the older generation as ‘the lucky ones’ with fewer problems than others. The evidence does not support this view", says Dr. Ros Altmann, Director-General of Saga, the over 50s group.

"Some are fine, but the majority are currently struggling and the worst affected are just short of retirement. Their pensions will not deliver the income they were expecting, their savings income has evaporated and more are losing their jobs. Once out of work, they find it hard to get back in. In short, their lives may never recover, but their plight has so far been ignored by policymakers."

The Saga Quarterly Report is the first to combine hard economic data with survey evidence on well-being. This echoes the Government's upcoming initiative to measure national well-being, due to start in April 2011.

Saga commissioned respected independent economists at the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) to analyse official economic data for the over 50s, showing trends in their income, unemployment and cost of living. Saga also commissioned Populus to conduct a nationwide survey, asking more than 10,000 over 50s about developments in their happiness, health, standard of living and leisure spending as well as reporting their increasing worries. Cebr analysed these Survey results to compile the Saga Quality of Life Index (QOLI) for the over 50s, which is an innovative indicator of well-being for this important group. Combined with the economic data, the Saga Quarterly Report provides a comprehensive picture of life for Britain's over 50s. It will be updated every three months.

"The Government itself wants to move beyond just looking at economic factors when assessing the nation's progress. Saga agrees and has taken the initiative to do this for the over 50s," stated Ros Altmann.

Key findings of the Saga Quarterly Report

· Over-50s quality of life has worsened over the past year

· 50-59 year olds and the lowest socio-economic groups across all over 50 age bands are having the toughest time

· Inflation is higher for 50-64 year-olds than for the rest of the population

· Unemployment for the over 50s is 69 per cent higher than it was pre-recession, compared with a 55 per cent rise across all age groups

· Long term unemployment has hit the over-50s hardest, with 43 per cent on the dole for more than a year (compared to 27 per cent of 18-24 year-olds)

· Rising cost of living is biggest worry for over-50s (63% more concerned than a year ago)

· Falling income from savings worries over half (54%) of over 50s

· Nearly half the over-50s have cut down on eating out to save money.

Charles Davis, Cebr economist said: “This report should prove a highly important piece of regular quarterly research. As the UK’s population of people over 50 continues to grow it is imperative that their concerns and challenges are tracked and understood.

Ros Altmann added, "As the Pensions Bill has its second reading in Parliament, policymakers need to recognise these realities. The unemployment findings are particularly worrying. If the over 50s are increasingly locked out of the labour market, measures to increase the state pension age too rapidly could do more harm than good.”

“There are 21 million over-50s in Britain, and if they’re cutting back on spending it could have massive implications for the economy.”

Click here to download the Saga Quarterly Report. 



1. The Saga Quarterly Report combines hard factual statistical data from official sources (such as Office for National Statistics and Family Expenditure Survey) with Saga’s own exclusive nationwide Populus Survey of more than 10,000 people aged over 50.

In identifying some of the key drivers that impact the daily lives of this age group and by tracking the quality of their lives, Saga hopes the Quarterly Report and its Quality of Life and Price Indices will improve the understanding of the lives of the over 50s, challenge the way society perceives age and ensure that the concerns and interests of the over 50s are on the agendas of politicians, decision-makers and the media.

2. Each report will include The Saga Quality of Life Index which measures perceptions of happiness, standards of living and health and has been modelled by Cebr from Saga Populus survey data to form an Index which can be tracked over time.

3. The Report also includes the Saga Price Indices, which are bespoke measures of price inflation for the over 50s, showing how inflation is affecting the cohorts age 50-64, 65-74 and the over 75. These indices have been compiled for Saga by the Cebr, using statistical data from the Family Expenditure Survey to re-weight the official basket of the consumer prices index to represent the spending patterns of each age group.

4. David Cameron announced last November that he wanted a better measure of how the country is doing than gross domestic product (GDP) or other economic indicators. He said ''it is high time we admitted that taken on its own, GDP is an incomplete way of measuring a country's progress''. He said it should be replaced by charting national well-being, adding that 'the country would be better off if we thought about well-being as well as economic growth''. A new measure of national well-being ''could give us a general picture of whether life is improving' and eventually 'lead to government policy that is more focused not just on the bottom line but on all those things that make life worthwhile.'' From April 2011, the Office for National Statistics will start the ''National Well-being Project'' which will ask people to rate various measures of their own well-being and result in the first official 'happiness index' in 2012. David Cameron, as well as other world leaders considering similar moves, are responding to calls by economists such as Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, who argued that countries should include more subjective indicators in measures of prosperity, and should move away from the standard economic measures. Saga decided the over 50s could not afford to wait any longer, as the policy debate should be informed about their well-being now. Our report shows that we were right.

5. Saga has a number of case studies of people in their fifties who have been badly hit by rising cost of living, and/or falling savings income and/or long-term unemployment and are willing to explain how they feel left out by Government policy and hard hit by the economic backdrop.

The Saga Quality of Life Index

The Saga Quality of Life Index is comprised of three equally weighted sub-indices:

1. The Standard of Living Index – which is based on answers to the survey question: “Over the past year, how has your standard of living changed?”

2. The Happiness Index - which is based on answers to the survey question: “All things considered, since last year would you say you are much more/more/about as/less/ much less happy?”

3. The Health Index - which is based on answers to the survey question: “Compared to this time last year, how is your health?”

Answers to the questions (which are multiple choice) are scored according to the following conventions:

Question response   Score
 Much better  1
 A bit better  0.5
 About the same  0
 A bit worse  0.5
 Much worse  -1

A weighted average of the survey responses, based on these scores, yields each of the sub indices. A score of 100 would imply that every survey respondent has indicated much improved outcome for the sub index. A score of -100 would imply all respondents indicating a much worse outcome.

The Saga Quality of Life Index is the (equally weighted) average of the Standard of Living, Happiness and Health sub-indices. It too is limited to the range -100 to 100. A score of 100 would imply that every survey respondent has indicated much improved standard of living, happiness and health compared with 12 months ago. A score of -100 would indicate much worse outcomes, for each of these indicators, for each survey respondent.

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