The Retirement Living Standards 

Our researchers support the investment decisions of millions of people, enhancing security and financial peace of mind in retirement.

The cost of living in retirement is increasing dramatically – recently jumping almost 20% in just 12 months – a consequence of high inflation driven by ongoing rises in energy and food prices.  

So, it’s no wonder that – according to the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association (PLSA) – less than a quarter of us are confident we know how much money to put aside. More worryingly, only half of us are planning for the future at all. 

The Retirement Living Standards (RLS) address this knowledge gap.  

Commissioned in 2018 by the PLSA  and established by researchers in the University’s Centre for Research in Social Policy (CRSP), the RLS were launched in October 2019. They have been adopted by more than 100 pension schemes – informing the decision-making of over 35 million savers across the UK. 

The current state of economic uncertainty combined with the ageing population of England and Wales (ONS) means that increasing numbers of us are desperately in need of this kind of invaluable guidance. 

What are the RLS? 

“The RLS research has heralded a ground-breaking shift in the provision of information to equip savers with the knowledge needed to make appropriate decisions.”  
Nigel Peaple (Director of Policy and Advocacy – PLSA)

Prior to the creation of the RLS, the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association (PLSA) had been using CRSP’s Minimum Income Standard (MIS) to help guide savers.  

However, in its 2018 report Hitting the Target, the Association recommended “that the UK should develop and implement a series of targets” specifically to provide those saving for their pension some sense of how much they will need to put aside. 

And so, following discussions with CRSP’s researchers, work on the RLS began. 





£12,800 a year 

£23,300 a year 

£37,300 a year 


£19,900 a year 

£34,000 a year 

£54,500 a year 

What standard of living could you have? 

Covers all your  

needs with some left over for fun 

More financial security and flexibility 

More financial freedom and some luxuries 

Figures from 2022

The standards are reviewed annually to reflect contemporary society and changes in costs – ensuring that savers have an up-to-date guide to how much they need to save.  

As well as providing unique and invaluable guidance, the RLS research offers a detailed insight into our attitudes about what security and financial peace of mind in retirement look like – and reveals that we don’t want our standard of living to diminish in older age.  

Who decides the RLS and how are they calculated? 

“One of the strengths of the RLS is that they are rooted in what the public believe is needed to retire at these three levels. Being bottom-up, they reflect a shared understanding of needs and how these are met, creating a picture of what retirement could look like and what’s needed to achieve this.” 
Matt Padley (Co-Director of CRSP)

The short answer is – we do. The RLS are citizen-led.  

Using the unique methodology established by their MIS research, the CRSP researchers bring together groups of the public to compile lists of the goods and services needed to participate in society.  

The items in these “baskets” are costed and checked by subsequent rounds of groups to produce a consensus – with specialist contributions supporting some areas including nutrition, transport costs and energy usage.  

The three baskets of goods and services comprising the RLS were initially agreed in 2018 and published in 2019.  

The first round of RLS research brought together 26 discussion groups – involving around 250 people from a range of socioeconomic groups across 13 UK locations. The participants were either already retired or over 50 years of age and still in work.  

The participants reached a clear consensus about the essential components of the three standards. And, with annual reviews ensuring that they reflect up-to-date views and costs, the RLS help people to make realistic plans based on the most accurate and current data available. 

Driving change and spreading the word 

“Government policy-makers are using the RLS to assess the UK pension regime, and whether policy reform is needed.” 
Nigel Peaple (Director of Policy and Advocacy – PLSA)

The PLSA is working to ensure that the RLS are adopted across the pension sector – and by the UK Government. 

Some big names in the pension industry are among the 100-plus schemes and organisations already using them to support their savers – including Aviva, Barclays, Nationwide, M&S, Railpen, Scottish Widows and Tesco. 

In addition, the PLSA is working directly with the Money and Pensions Service to include the RLS in their tools, such as the Money Helper (formerly, Money Advice Service) pension calculator.  

The RLS research has also been used by several leading industry organisations to analyse pensions adequacy, including by the PLSA (Five steps to a better pension) and the Pensions Policy Institute (What is an adequate retirement income?).  

Unsurprisingly, the pictures painted by these reports are not entirely rosy. Given the current global economic circumstances, we’re all experiencing increasing demands on our income.  

However, the reports do offer practical ways – to both individuals and, more importantly, policy-makers – to buffer likely widespread pension inadequacy. 

And, it’s true to say that the RLS have started a national conversation, promoting greater understanding and helping us to think about retirement. Widespread media coverage continues and includes articles in The Daily Record, The Express, The Guardian, Mail Online and The Times as well as on the This Is Money website. 

The RLS – “more important than ever”  

The RLS provide a fascinating insight into our shared attitudes towards and aspirations for retirement.  

What’s more, although it’s hard to look beyond the current cost-of-living crisis, using the RLS makes thinking and planning ahead that much easier. 

The latest round of RLS research, involving 140 people, was completed in May 2023 and will be published later this year – providing the latest insights and guidance for millions of savers.  

Matt Padley, Co-Director of CRSP, sums up the importance of the ongoing research:

We know, from the research we do on minimum living standards, that the State Pension is becoming less and less adequate year on year – and this situation seems unlikely to change anytime soon.  

“It’s crucial that, as a society, we reach a new consensus about what the State Pension should provide, and how to best support those living on very low incomes in retirement.  

“More broadly, it’s more important than ever that people have useful tools to help them in thinking about the sort of retirement they want – and how much they may need to save in order to achieve this.” 

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