Scottish govt failed to plan for costs of free social care

Scotland’s flagship policy of free personal care for older people has been criticised after an annual £63 million funding gap was revealed.

Spending watchdog Audit Scotland said the Scottish government failed to anticipate the full costs of the programme, which provides free personal and nursing care for Scots over 65.

The total cost of providing free personal care in the first four years after the policy was launched in 2002 was £1.8 billion, above initial estimates.

Councils would have spent £1.2 billion in any case as some care services were already being provided free. But Audit Scotland raised concerns at the £600 million shortfall, warning this can be expected to rise further.

Auditor general Robert Black said: “It is well documented that Scotland has a growing older population and demand for free personal care will grow.

“There needs to be better planning and better funding of this policy.”

Mr Black recognised free personal and nursing care is an important policy for older Scots, with 72,000 now accessing the service.

But the auditor also criticised “ambiguities” in the scheme, with councils differing in services provided.

In its critical report Audit Scotland accepted that it had been difficult to produce initial cost estimates, but monitoring had since been limited and the government had not updated long-term cost estimates since 2001.

Audit Scotland said future legislation must be better planned, better managed and better funded.

The SNP government said it was aware of many of the concerns, which is why it had already asked Lord Sutherland to lead a funding review of free personal care.

SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon: “Having looked back at the legislation, and the guidance given at the time of its introduction, the auditor general found these to be ambiguous, leading to uncertainty and inconsistencies across local authorities.

“This is exactly why we are working in partnership with Cosla to resolve issues such as eligibility criteria, waiting lists and food preparation.”