The cost of providing free personal care for people living at home has increased by about 160 per cent to almost £350 million in less than a decade, figures revealed yesterday.
Scottish Government statistics showed councils spent a total of £346.7m in 2011-12 caring for the elderly at home, compared with £133m in 2003-4.
Yesterday, opposition parties expressed doubts about the viability of continuing to finance free care, originally introduced by Henry McLeish’s Labour-led Executive and embraced by the SNP government.
The Scottish Government, however, argued the rise in cost could be partly explained by a determination to keep old people at home rather than moving them to care homes.
Nevertheless, the amount outstripped the figure forecast by Lord Sutherland, the architect of free personal care, when he reviewed his own policy in 2008.
That predicted providing home care would cost £314m by 2011, rising to £393m in 2016.
Labour’s health spokesman Neil Findlay said the figures showed “the challenges in dealing with an ageing population”.
He said: “These figures are only going to continue to rise. This is a demographic time-bomb.”
Tory health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “Free personal care is an admirable enough policy, but when you line it up alongside the SNP’s other freebie pursuits the overall picture is worrying.”
Across Scotland an average of 381,700 hours of free personal care were provided to people in their own homes in each week of 2011-12, a substantial increase from the average of 226,000 hours in 2003-4.
The average amount of care received per person has also risen by more than an hour over the period, from 6.9 hours to 8.2 hours, suggesting that people receiving care at home have increasing levels of need.
The number of people receiving free personal care in their home increased from 32,870 in 2003-04 to 46,740 in 2011-12.
Over the same period there was a slight fall in the average number of long-stay residents in care homes who are aged 65 or over, from 32,070 to 30,750.
Before the introduction of the policy in July 2002, the elderly could be charged when they received personal care services, such as help with washing, dressing and eating.
Health secretary Alex Neil defended the policy, saying free personal and nursing care was “a vital universal benefit”.