UK insurers share £7.4bn Covid boost as life expectancy falls by nine months

Increased mortality a direct result of coronavirus deaths and its knock-on health effects

Ambulances outside the Royal London Hospital in London. Britain's increased mortality rate is a direct result of deaths from coronavirus. EPA

A lower life expectancy in Britain as a result of the coronavirus may boost the profits of pension providers by £7.4 billion, or 16 per cent each year for the next five years.

Making the assumption that the pandemic would cut life expectancy in the UK by nine months, an analysts said major pension managers set to benefit include Aviva, Just Group and Legal & General. Shorter average lifespans mean providers will pay out less to people in the coming years who have bought an income, typically as part of a retirement plan.

The increased mortality as a direct result of deaths from coronavirus, as well as its knock-on effects such as an escalation in mental health issues and lower cancer diagnosis rates, will allow life insurers to release more funds that have been set aside in reserves.

Royal Bank of Canada said the pandemic would reverse trends of longevity after its insurance stock analysts Gordon Aitken and Mandeep Jagpal processed statistics from the UK Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, as well as data from insurance companies.

“There may be continued waves of Covid, and poorer health due to long Covid,” they wrote in a note to clients.

“There may be second order effects such as delayed diagnoses and treatment of other conditions, and the impact of the economic slowdown may be detrimental.”

It means arguments that the pandemic would actually increase life expectancy – by encouraging healthier lifestyles and boosting knowledge about the spread of the coronavirus – are outweighed by factors that could cut lifespans,

“We take no view on the future long-term impact of Covid on life expectancy, yet we believe it is likely that this will result in lower life expectancy,” the analysts said.

In March, a rise in excess deaths in Britain caused by Covid-19 was expected to lower the state pension burden by £1.5 billion, with private pension providers and insurers also affected by the higher mortality rate.

The Treasury’s pension spending was on track to fall by £600m in 2020/2021 and £900m in 2021/2022, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, because the 144,000 deaths linked to Covid-19 since the start of the crisis were mainly comprise people aged 65 and over.

A June report from epidemiologist Michael Marmot at University College London, showed a life expectancy contraction of 0.9 years across England last year, while a British Medical Journal report in November said 28 million excess years of life were lost in 2020 across the 31 countries assessed in its study.

The life insurance industry bases its mortality assumptions on Continuous Mortality Investigation analysis, which releases an updated model in March.

Meanwhile, provisional estimates from Public Health England this year found life expectancy in England in 2020 was 78.7 years for men, and 82.7 years for women with the figures down 1.3 years and 0.9 years respectively – the sharpest fall for 40 years.

Life expectancy has dipped since 2012 because of slowing improvements in the treatment of circulatory disease, and a rise in dementia cases with the slowdown having the potential to stop further increases in the state pension age in the future.

Meanwhile in the US, life expectancy in 2020 stood at 77 years, a 1.8-year decrease from 2019 and the biggest decline since the Second World War, while the pandemic was the third-ranking cause of death, behind heart disease and cancer.

The US population grew by 392,665, or 0.1 per cent, in the 12-month period ending July 1, according to date released earlier this month by the Census Bureau, the lowest rate for some time.

Updated: December 30th 2021, 11:09 AM