End free care and tuition, urge Scots
Jason Allardyce and John Boothman
Ministers are under pressure to scrap Scotland’s increasingly costly free universal public services, with a majority of Scots keen to abolish free university tuition and personal care for the elderly.
A Sunday Times investigation has found that amid growing pressure on the public purse, the cost of the flagship free policies has soared to about £2.5bn.
In the case of free personal care alone, the price tag has risen by 287% since it was introduced in 2002 — up from £132m to £500m. Scotland’s ageing population means the cost of that and other free services for elderly people is likely to continue to rise sharply.
Taxpayers are also footing an annual bill of £1.3bn for more than 100m free prescriptions dispensed in the community.
This cost for 2015/16, which excludes the cost of prescriptions issued within hospitals, is up by 7% on the previous year and 28% from 10 years ago.
Meanwhile, the cost of free university education for under- graduate students based in Scotland now stands at £155m, with Holyrood education secretary John Swinney spending an estimated additional £75m to pay for 13,450 EU students.
A Panelbase poll of 1,020 voters in Scotland for The Sunday Times found that 53% want to end the key SNP policy of free university tuition and think students should instead pay towards the cost of their tuition once they have finished their degree and are earning. While a majority backs what has been termed a graduate tax, 47% believe all university students should continue to get tuition free.
On the flagship free personal care for the elderly policy, introduced by Labour in 2001, 53% think the question of who pays should depend on the resources of the person who needs regular help.
In contrast, 35% say the government should pay for care, regardless of the elderly person’s means . . .
Responding to the latest costs, Lord Sutherland — the architect of the free elderly care policy — called for a Holyrood review into the affordability of Scotland’s “free” services.
The populist measures have also seen MSPs abolish charges for eye tests and dental check-ups, scrap bridge tolls, and introduce free bus passes for people over 60.
In recent months, the tuition fees policy has been criticised amid evidence that the lower level of bursary support offered in Scotland leads a smaller proportion of students from poorer backgrounds into university than in England, where fees apply.
Last week Brian Wilson, the former Labour education minister, argued that Scotland’s universal free services “have not done a blind bit of good” for people in poverty who would not have paid anyway under any government.
Sutherland said a Holyrood committee should now investigate whether Scotland’s universal services can continue to be provided free to users.
“I certainly think we need to look at that,” he said. “Can we afford this as things get tighter and tighter? We are going to be running a deficit level in Scotland that is probably worse than in England and this has to do with many of the services that we offer.
“We are now providing as part of the national cake a whole range of public services free that are not provided in many other countries. The impact is showing in all sorts of ways, including cuts to local government support. Political parties often shy away from these sacred cows when we need courage and honesty.”
With the Scottish economy facing a huge budget deficit and falling economic growth, “all aspects of Scottish public spending will have to be reviewed”, warned Douglas McWilliams, president of the Centre for Economics and Business Research. . .
Socialism, like communism or fascism, will always bring out such Human Greed that will always exceed Human Need. Anyone that would deny this has never observed human behavior.
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