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Pension schemes need to factor in the ‘enduring legacy’ of pandemic mortality trends

Money jar with pension written on

The mortality legacy of Covid-19 is likely to far outlast the pandemic itself and pension schemes are being urged to understand the make-up of their members and how these trends might be reflected in their schemes.

New analysis of ONS data by Dr Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard, presented at today’s LCP Annual Pensions Conference, shows persistent high levels of people dying at home from causes other than Covid at the same time as excess deaths in care homes and hospitals have fallen from their pandemic peak. It also reveals that surprisingly, there have been big increases of excess deaths in the middle-aged sections of society.

There have been 75,474 excess deaths in private homes registered between March 7, 2020, and October 29, 2021. Excess deaths are defined as deaths above the number expected if there hadn’t been a pandemic. The leading cause of these deaths include Heart Disease, Dementia, Alzheimer’s and various cancers.

These high levels of deaths can be attributed to factors such as disruption to normal care pathways for diseases such as heart disease and cancer, waiting list increases and people being more reticent to seek medical help than they were pre-pandemic.

Key findings of the analysis include:

  • This trend is a reflection of the indirect impacts of the pandemic which are likely to entrench the widening gap between rich and poor on life expectancy.
  • Health outcomes, including life expectancy, were already declining for 1 in 5 women and 1 in 9 men pre-pandemic and now look set to deteriorate further. There are likely to be big geographical divides.
  • On average there have been 10 per cent more deaths in middle-aged adults between 50-64 since 1st April of this year which compares starkly to other age brackets who have seen fewer deaths than would be expected normally.
  • LCP estimates that a middle-aged man aged 57 who is a manual worker living in Manchester and lives with a chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes and is in the most deprived 10% of the country, will face significantly worse mortality outcomes than before Covid-19 due to the indirect trends of the pandemic. Conversely, an 81-year-old woman with no chronic disease from Richmond, London, which has some of the best health outcomes in the country, can expect almost no long-term health detriment as a result of the pandemic.

Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard, Partner at LCP, commented: “At the height of the pandemic many pension schemes were focused on what the direct mortality impact would be of Covid and how it would impact their assumptions.

“What we are now seeing is the lasting, enduring and indirect legacy of the pandemic which could be with us for years to come. The longer we see persistently high levels of deaths at home, the more likely it is to exacerbate the chasm in life expectancies between rich and poor and we may see life expectancies going backwards.

“Schemes should look at the demographics of their members and have an eye to the future about what this might mean for future mortality assumptions.”

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