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The number of people aged 100 or over in England and Wales hit a record high in 2021, according to official figures published on Monday, showing the impact of falling mortality rates on Britain’s aging population.

National Bureau of Statistics analysis of census data show In 2021, there were 13,924 centenarians, an increase of 24.5% from 2011 and a 127-fold increase from the 110 registered in 1921.

Of these, 11,288 were women and 2,636 men, with the highest proportions in parts of southern England such as East Devon, Arran and the New Forest.

The UK ranks seventh among countries with the most centenarians, and ninth when population size is taken into account.

There are 31 centenarians per 100,000 people in the UK, according to analysis of United Nations population data by the Office for National Statistics. This compares with 106 per 100,000 people in Japan, 42 in France and 30 in Italy.

Tony Travers, professor of government at the London School of Economics, said the “extraordinary increase” in the number of people living to 100 was “an extraordinarily optimistic indicator” and a “success for society”, which he attributed to advances in the NHS and Stricter health policies in various regions such as smoking.

But he warned that raising the pension age would mean “higher pension costs, higher care costs and make it easier for the government to argue for a higher pension age”.

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Death rates in England and Wales have risen sharply since the 1960s, the statistics agency said, as a result of advances in healthcare and public health measures that have helped reduce mortality rates.

In 1921, life expectancy was 67.9 years for women and 61.2 years for men, but now they are 90.5 and 87.6 years respectively.

Most centenarians surveyed by the ONS had a disability, but a quarter said they were in good health.

The latter include former Flight Lieutenant Colin Bell, 102, who was killed last week become He was “the oldest person ever to abseil” when he descended 280 feet from the side of London’s Royal Hospital, according to the charity London Air Ambulance.

Colin Bell abseiling
Colin Bell became ‘oldest ever abseil participant’ last week © Reuters Video

Centenarians make up just 0.2% of the total population of England and Wales, but the life expectancy of girls and boys born in 2021 is 19.6% and 14.1% respectively, the Office for National Statistics said.

Although the number of centenarians has more than doubled since 1991, official figures released last month showed the number of births in England and Wales has fallen to its lowest level in two decades, leading to a rapidly aging population.

The Office for Budget Responsibility warned that the UK’s aging population “will continue to drive health and social care spending and state pension costs”.

In detailed forecasts released this month, the independent fiscal watchdog predicted that state pension spending would rise to nearly 9% of gross domestic product by 2072-73, up from 5.1% currently.

Over the same period, adult social care is expected to increase by 1 percentage point to 2.3% of GDP, while health spending will almost double to 15%.


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