One in eight workers are forced to stop working before the state pension age due to ill-health or disability, according to a new report.

Almost half a million men and women in the UK have had to leave their workplace due to medical reasons within five years of retirement age, said the report by the Trade Union Congress.

The current retirement age for men is 65 and 60 for women.

The analysis revealed a strong North-South divide, where sickness and disability is cited by just one in 13 of those who leave work in the run-up to retirement age in the South West. This is followed by one in 11 in the South East.

However, in Yorkshire and the Humber, the North East and North West, Wales and Scotland, the number increases to one in seven and even more in Northern Ireland to one in four workers, reflecting wider health inequalities across the regions and nations of the UK.

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “Raising the state pension age is an easy target for chancellors of the exchequer wanting to make stealth cuts.

“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.”

Those who have worked in lower paid jobs, including cleaners, carers, those in the leisure industry and those in heavy manual jobs are twice as likely to stop working before their retirement age due to sickness and disability as manager or professionals, said TUC.

Mr O’Grady added: “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 rising state pension age

In March, the government announced plans of an independent review of the state pension age, in which its findings are due to be published in May.

For many years, the state pension age has remained at 65 for men, whilst women’s state pension age has risen over the last six years in order to match this by November 2018.

The government are planning to increase retirement age to 66 from 2020, increasing this to 67 between 2026 and 2028. The state pension age will then be reviewed every five years from then on, meaning those who are now in their 20s might have to wait until they are at least 70-years-old before retiring.

The TUC said that raising the state pension age is too simplistic an approach to increasing the number of people working in later life.

Instead, allowing staff to request flexible working from the day they start their job would allow workers room to develop a working pattern that suits their personal needs as well as employers, said the union.

They also suggest an increased focus on health issues in reviews, the expansion of auto-enrolment into the pensions system, giving workers statutory entitlement to carers leave and giving older workers the right to retrain with paid time off to learn new skills.