Page last updated at 08:00 GMT, Friday, 27 November 2009

Free elderly care 'too expensive'

Generic elderly woman's hands
The cost of free personal care has soared in recent years

Scotland may no longer be able to afford free personal care for all its elderly population, the country's top social worker has claimed.

Harriet Dempster, the president of the Association of Directors of Social Work, said spending cuts meant the policy may have to become means-tested.

The latest figures showed free personal care costs the taxpayer more than £350m a year.

The Scottish government insisted it was still committed to the policy.

But Ms Dempster said public spending was facing cuts at the same time as the elderly population was rising.

We need to take a position where we recognise that people are in different positions in society about their ability to pay
Harriet Dempster
Association of Directors of Social Work

She suggested it was time to make sure the most vulnerable were supported, perhaps by recognising that some elderly people could afford to pay for the service.

She told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme: "The most important thing is to provide support to our vulnerable and elderly.

"When we've got short resources, we want to ensure that the most vulnerable people who are not in a position to make a contribution get the services.

Rising costs

"It's really questioning whether the policy in the medium and longer term is viable and I'm asking that we have a discussion and debate about that now."

She added: "I think we need to look at all the needs of our elderly and we need to take a position where we recognise that people are in different positions in society about their ability to pay."

The policy is currently used by 50,000 vulnerable people, and costs rose by 11% to £358m last year.

Her view is likely to be seen as important because it is directors of social work who have to administer the policy.

The Scottish government said it was working with councils and health boards to see how they could provide services for the elderly in years to come.



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