Three million will flee Britain to retire abroad
By Karyn Miller, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 1:14am GMT 10/12/2006
For those now starting their working lives, retirement may seem a long way off. They could be more right than they know – when they reach pension age it may well take them hundreds or even thousands of miles away.
This is because more than three million British pensioners will have left the UK and be living abroad by the year 2050, according to a study.
The number of expatriate pensioners is expected to soar to one in five in a phenomenon researchers have named "silver flight".
In 1981, just a quarter of a million pensioners lived overseas. Their number had swollen to more than one million by last year.
Sunshine was found to be the biggest lure, with a third of interviewees giving it as their reason for leaving. However, the researchers have also cited other reasons, including a "new notion" of retirement as a beginning in life, rather than an end.
Australia is the most popular country among expatriate pensioners, with 245,000 – nearly one in four – living there. Other popular destinations are North America, with 190,000 expatriates of pension age; Ireland, with 105,000; and Spain, with 75,000.
The report, Brits Abroad, is published today by the Institute for Public Policy Research. The projected increase has been calculated by setting the increased number of retired Britons moving overseas against the growth rate of the UK's ageing population.
Catherine Drew, the study's co-author, said: "British pensioners are increasingly spending their twilight years overseas, where the climate is better for their health, where the cost of living is better for their pocket and where the experience of a new culture feeds the sense of adventure that many now aspire to in their retirement years."
Retired expatriates told The Sunday Telegraph that the latest figures did not surprise them.
Ray Mitchell, 63, a retired prison governor, sold his four-bedroom house in Newcastle upon Tyne in 2002. With his wife Pat, 68, he moved to La Cala de Mijas, a town on Spain's Costa del Sol, where a third of the residents are British.
Mr Mitchell said: "We left the UK because we were fed up with the way things were going. I became increasingly frustrated by all the health and safety rules and the incorporation of the Human Rights Act – I worked in prisons for 37 years, so I saw the effects first hand.
"It isn't getting any better, so I can believe that lots more people will be coming out here.
"I visited England recently, to deliver Christmas presents, and everywhere I went people were moaning about how difficult it was to afford a reasonable lifestyle there.
"We have lots of friends here and we indulge ourselves by taking lots of long walks along the beach and eating out. Of course, it's easy to do that here because everything is so much cheaper: we can go out for dinner, with wine and liqueurs, and have change from €30 (£20). The healthcare is good, and it is free once you become a resident here. I'm sitting in my garden, the sun is shining and I can't imagine ever moving back."
William Stead, 67, a former electrician, agrees. "People are travelling more, and the UK is becoming too expensive."
Two years ago, Mr Stead and his wife Mazzirha, 64, sold their three-bedroom semi-detached house in Northampton and moved to Motril, in southern Spain, where they bought a 200-year-old pueblo with a sun terrace and sea views.
"Northampton used to be a nice town. But it reached the stage where we had to be careful where we went, because of young people causing trouble. Where we live now, the sun shines every day. We spend a lot of time visiting friends and the time flies.
"Another reason for moving was the economic advantage: I receive a state pension and a small private pension, and my money goes 30 per cent further here because everything is so much cheaper."
If the prediction of "silver flight" proves correct, it could go some way to relieving what has been described as a "demographic timebomb".
Ten years ago, life expectancy was 71 for men born in the UK, and 77 for women. It is now 77 for men, and 81 for women and every year the average life expectancy rises by three months. On current estimates, a quarter of the UK population will be of retirement age by 2050. This has been blamed for putting a strain on housing supply. Economists have said that because people are living in their homes for longer, there are fewer homes for younger people to buy.