Scotland is facing a demographic time bomb in the coming decades with a sharp rise in the older population, prompting fears over how hard-pressed services will cope.
The number of pensioners will soar by 28 per cent in just 25 years, according to official figures from the Registers of Scotland released yesterday.
The figure has led to calls for the “swift action” from the Scottish Government to deal with the expected spike in demand at hospitals and social care departments.
And there are now warnings that taxes may have to rise to help fund the looming costs involved.
The elderly population has rocketed in the past ten years. The number of pensioners is projected to decrease slightly from 1.06 million three years ago to 1.01 million by 2020 – but this will soar to 1.36 million by 2039, a jump of 28 per cent from 2014.
The number of over-75s will have soared from 430,000 to about 800,000. By contrast the working population paying taxes to meet the growing cost of public services is predicted to grow by just 1 per cent, Scotland’s registrar general Tim Ellis warned.
“This will have implications for funding allocations, tax revenues, pensions, education, health and social care provision,” he said.
The country’s reliance on immigration from overseas to boost the workforce and maintain the tax base are set out in stark terms in the latest figures. Scotland’s entire population increase of 31,700 to 5.4 million in the year to June 2016 was down to net immigration, with three-quarters of these mainly young workers from outside the UK.
Tory health spokesman Miles Briggs said: “Scotland’s population has been ageing for some time, but this is a trend that’s been utterly neglected by the SNP.
“We can already see the strain this Scottish Government complacency has put on the NHS. The warnings have been sounded for years, but the SNP has done nothing.
“Unless we see swift action now, the problems for hospital staff and patients are only going to get worse in the years ahead.
“The report is quite clear that there’s going to be a heavily increasing elderly population north of the Border, who risk being served by an NHS which won’t be remotely equipped to provide the help they need.”
The year to June 2016 saw 46,300 people coming to Scotland from the rest of the UK, compared with 37,500 leaving for the rest of the UK, and 40,400 coming from overseas, compared with 17,500 leaving for overseas.
The net gain of 32,000 compares to 28,000 in the previous year and is the highest net in-migration figure since 2006/7.
Labour deputy leader Alex Rowley said: “These demographic projections show that public services will come under increasing strain in coming years as the increase in pensioners rapidly outpaces the increase in working age people.
“Scotland faces a twin threat to public services – a reckless Tory Brexit which would risk making it harder to attract people to Scotland, and an SNP government which refuses to use Holyrood’s powers to invest. Only Labour is offering a positive future for the UK. Labour is clear that jobs and the economy must come first in the Brexit negotiations.
“We also now need to be honest about how we fund public services – Labour would use the tax powers of the Scottish Parliament to abandon austerity and give our public services the investment they need.”
Labour is proposing a 1p increase in the basic rate of tax and a 50p rate for top earners making more than £150,000.
Migrants tended to be younger, with a peak age for moves into Scotland of 19 while it is 23 for those leaving. The net gain of 32,000 compares to 28,000 in the previous year and is the highest net in-migration figure since 2006/7.
The Scottish Government says the prospect of immigration now being choked off after Brexit would have stark consequences for Scotland.
Brexit Minister Mike Russell said the statistics show the “key role” migration has in boosting Scotland’s population and economy.
He added: “Scotland remains an outward looking and welcoming destination for countless people around the world who want to live, work and study here, and call Scotland home.
“Scotland as a whole benefits from inward migration – boosting growth in our economy and diversity in our communities.
“Behind this good news, however, we cannot escape the immense harm that Brexit poses. A hard Brexit, with restrictions on free movement, would be a major threat to our economy, and the contribution made by people from across Europe and further afield.
“Those are concerns made even more stark by the Prime Minister’s comments on the future of free movement and the risk it faces. There is wide support for Scotland to have responsibility for our own immigration policy.”
The prospect of stifled immigration levels after Brexit damaging public services in Scotland were also set out by Greens External Affairs spokesman Ross Greer.
He said: “Scotland’s immigration needs have never been fully met by policies set at Westminster.
“We have suffered from decades of population decline and are dependent on skilled workers from the EU and beyond coming here to keep our valued public services such as the NHS and social care going.”