Some one in eight people are being forced out of the labour market due to ill health before state pension age, according to new research.
The Trades Union Congress has warned hundreds of thousands of older workers are being “consigned to poverty” due to ill health.
The report entitled ‘Extending working lives: how to support older workers’ found 534,876 workers aged 60 to 65 had to leave the workplace for medical reasons.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary at TUC, 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.”
The 16-page report also revealed an income and class divide. People who left the labour market early while working in low-income jobs – such as cleaning, care and manual labour - were six times more likely to quit due to medical reasons than those in higher-paid jobs.
The analysis also showed clear regional disparities. In the South West and the West Midlands, one in 12 people aged 60 to 66 left work due to long-term sickness or disability.
But this rose to one in seven in Yorkshire and the Humber and Wales, one in six the North East and one in five in Northern Ireland.
Dennis Hall, chartered financial planner for London-based Yellowtail Financial Planning, said the findings of the report were not a surprise and raised questions on what needs to change to encourage more people to sign up to protection products.
He added: “We know from previous pieces of research that the UK in general is underinsured and so this report won’t be a surprise to people working in the protection space, who have been banging the drum for disability protection for longer that I’ve been an adviser.
"I would suggest that people who use financial advisers are more likely to have their protection needs taken care of, or at least have a plan to cater for sudden income loss.
"It’s the unadvised person who is unlikely to be protected. As the adage goes; protection is sold not bought.
"The question this raises is not what advisers can do to encourage clients to make better plans, but what needs to change to make advice more widely available?"
The TUC is now calling on the government to urgently work with unions and employers on developing training programmes for older workers. The union body argues that those in physically intensive jobs need help retraining so they can extend their working lives.