Leader comment: Defusing the age time bomb will rely on immigration

The health service will need to be better resourced to deal with a 28 per cent rise in the number of pensioners.
The health service will need to be better resourced to deal with a 28 per cent rise in the number of pensioners.
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Most of us will have seen advertisements for cruises and hotels featuring a clientele of “still young” retired people dancing the night away, golfing or enjoying some fine dining while the sommelier hovers nearby with the wine.

But as encouraging as this idyllic picture may be, the reality for many may be rather different once the years start to take their toll.

In 25 years’ time, there will be a 28 per cent rise in the pensioner population in Scotland.

We can’t say we weren’t told.

While we always knew there would be an increase, we now have numbers to work with.

These will allow us to plan and put in place what our senior citizens require – from suitable housing and well-staffed care homes to health services tailored to their needs and a wide range of support services.

We also need to increase the opportunities for the elderly to stay in their own homes when they need support. Not only is the cost of such care far less than residential care, we also know a 28 per cent rise means there will be nowhere near enough care home places available.

Worryingly, we heard last week from Audit Scotland there has been a failure to plan for the long-term future of the NHS in Scotland, and there could be a shortfall of 5,000 nurses in just five years’ time.

Combined with a surge in pensioners, that will put a huge strain on services. Clearly, planning will be key if this time bomb is to be successfully defused.

But even if a shake of the magic money tree proved fruitful, and the financial resource required to equip us for this demographic change landed at our feet, there is another issue which is key to surviving this shift: immigration.

We know the NHS is struggling to recruit nurses, and external labour is essential if we are to have the numbers of staff and the expertise to carry out the increased workload. Immigrants will also help to grow the economy, and increase the taxation that will be required to foot the bill that’s coming.

In which case, Brexit presents as big a challenge as any factor as we face a future with an ageing population.

Whether open or managed, Scotland needs immigration to address the challenges ahead, because the evidence suggests we cannot do this alone. If the necessary workforce cannot be put in place, the time bomb will eventually explode.