Did You Know?


The graph above compares the proportion of adults aged 50+ who have a long-term illness which limits their daily activities in Scotland and in the rest of the UK.

The data is drawn from the Family Resources Survey, an annual survey of families living in the UK conducted by the Department for Work and Pensions. Survey respondents are asked "do you have any long-standing illness, disability or infirmity? By 'long-standing ' I mean anything that has troubled you over a period of at least 12 months or that is likely to affect you over a period of at least 12 months” and  “does this physical or mental illness or disability limit your activities in any way?”

The proportion of individuals with a long-term limiting illness is almost always higher in Scotland, with the exception of 2009 and 2011 where the proprtion of individuals with a long-term limiting illness is about 1% higher in the rest of the UK.  On average, the proportion of individuals with a long-term limiting illness is 1% higher in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK.

It is important to track the proportion of individuals with long-standing illness as an indicator of demands on the health care system, and for its effects on retirement, pensions, standard of living and the general well-being of older people.

With Scotland likely to assume control over a number of welfare benefits that are linked to disability in the near future, it will become more important than ever not only to collect data on trends, but also to understand why illness and disability rates in Scotland are higher than in the rest of the UK.


There is no longer a statutory age of retirement. Individuals can decide themselves when they want to leave the labour force. Some retire at a relatively young age, others much later. Their decisions will reflect their circumstances such as their health, the size of any personal pension they may have accumulated, responsibilities to family or friends and any outstanding debts they may have. The age of qualification for the state pension is rising rapidly for women, reaching 65 by 2018. It is then set to further increase to 68 for both men and women during the next two decades.

The figure above shows how the number of Scots who are retired increases between the ages of 50 and 70. Thus, at ages 50-54, virtually none have retired. A substantial majority of this age group is employed or self-employed. The same is largely true of the 50 to 59-year-olds. Between 60 and 64 however, there is a substantial increase in retirement. Nevertheless, the employed and self-employed still are in a substantial majority. It is only among those aged 65 to 69 where retirement predominates. Even so, in 2015, there were nearly 50,000 Scots aged over 65 still working.

Since the turn of the century, there has been a substantial increase in the number of older Scots still working. In 2002, for example, only 70,000 Scots aged 60 to 64 were in employment: by 2015 there were 117,000 workers in this age group. The increase has been particularly marked since the Great Recession. The associated fall in investment returns and therefore in the generosity of pensions is likely to have encouraged many Scots to remain at work. However, the declining physical demands of work and improved health are also likely to have played a part.


The Scottish Government is committed to helping the older members in our society to stay at home for as long as possible. That is, they recognise that being at home in a familiar and comfortable environment is the best option for an older person who might be suffering from mental and/or physical disability. This is particularly true for the older old – those, say, aged over 75.

In the 2013/14 Family Resources Survey, participants were asked “How much of the time over the past four weeks have you been happy?” Participants could select one of 6 categories as a response. Those were: all of the time; most of the time; some of the time; a little of the time; none of the time and don’t know.

The graph above shows the responses of those aged over 75 to this happiness question. The chart is split into those participants who were living alone, and those who were not living alone.

There are differences between those living alone and others. Most noticeably, of those who lived alone were 52% said that they were happy ‘most of the time’ while 58% of those who did not live alone said they were happy ‘most of the time’. It seems that those who live alone are less happy.

There are also differences between those who are happy ‘a little of the time’.  4% of respondents living with others were happy ‘a little of the time’ whilst 6% of those who lived alone said the same. Interestingly, 16% of those who lived alone said that they were happy ‘all of the time’ compared to 13% those who didn’t live alone. Perhaps surprisingly, this implies that those living alone are more likely to exhibit the highest level of happiness.

But in general Scots, aged 75+ living alone are less happy than those who live with someone. It is important that we are aware of these differences, especially when policy promotes living at home for as long as possible in older age. We should continue to bear in mind that half of those aged 75+ in Scotland live alone at home, and are more likely to be unhappy.