IT’S a county famed for its slower pace of life.

So it may not come as a surprise to many that the number of pensioners across Dorset is on the rise and set to outstrip the national average in the next 20 years.

An ‘Age Map’ released by the government shows Dorset will surpass the national average of 22.2 per cent of the population aged over 65 by 2031 with East Dorset and Christchurch, an area with the highest proportion of pensioners in the country, smashing this figure by a massive margin.

Currently the percentage of the population over 65 in Christchurch is 30.4 – almost double the existing UK figure of 16.5 per cent.

But according to data from the Office of National Statistics this figure will rise by nearly eight per cent to 37.9 per cent by 2031, representing more than a third of the borough’s population.

In East Dorset, the figure jumps even further from 27.9 per cent now to 38 per cent while almost a quarter of Bournemouth’s population will be over 65 and in Poole the figure will increase to just over 28 per cent.

Celia Burgess, manager of Age Concern in Christchurch, said: “One of the worrying things at the moment is the reorganisation of the health service and how that will affect us.

“The question is how the next generation are going to cope with these changes as more and more pressure is put on services.

“Many people move to this area after visiting it on holiday and retire down here.

“But that in itself can present problems of isolation and loneliness if one of the couple dies or becomes ill.

“If the proper infrastructure is not put in place to support those over 65 then things are going to get a lot worse for them.”

The release of the data coincides with the government’s call to raise the state pension age to 66.

Life expectancy has risen by 40 per cent in the past 25 years.

When the state pension was set in 1940, average life expectancy was 72.

Now it is 89 for men and 90 for women.

Pensions Minister Steve Webb said: “We cannot ignore our ageing society – it brings great opportunity if we rise to the challenge.

“We must harness the skills and experience of our older generations.

“We also must provide the right support.

“We are making changes to reinvigorate a culture of saving and will ensure that when you get your state pension it will provide a proper foundation.”