This will have set alarm bells ringing in Westminster this morning; Harriet Dempster, president of Scottish social work body the Association of Directors of Social Work, has admitted on radio that Scotland may not be able to afford its policy of free social care for all elderly people for much longer.
With costs for the policy rising – it was up 11% last year to £358 million – and swingeing budget cuts on the horizon, Ms Dempster said the policy may have to become means-tested.
Ms Dempster has called for a debate on the policy’s medium to long-term viability, including whether more well-off elderly people could afford to pay for services. In response, the Scottish Government has said it remains committed to the policy.
The Scottish experience should be heeded by ministers in England as they consider introducing a similar programme, as outlined in its Personal Care at Home Bill earlier this week. The government says that it “will cost £670 million per year”, but these have been widely questioned.
Indeed, the £358 million cost of the Scottish scheme is for only 50,000 people; the English version could cover up to 280,000 people with ‘substantial and critical’ needs. So if the costs were the same on both sides of the border – they won’t be, but this is just for example purposes – in England that could mean the policy costs about £2 billion per year. This figure doesn’t include the further 130,000 people who will help with ‘re-ablement’ in order to regain their independence and prevent ill health.
If – and it’s a big ‘if’ – the policy did come in, that £2 billion figure would quickly rise, simply because of demographics; the UK has an ageing population so more people would need it in time.
Again, with budget cuts coming, where would the money for this come from without making cuts to other services? Answers on a postcard please…