THE architect of Scotland's policy of free personal care for the elderly said the demographic shift towards an older population across the developed world should get the same priority as climate change.

Lord Sutherland's call came after the 2011 Census showed the number of people aged 65 and over in Scotland had overtaken the total of those under 14.

He claimed Scotland was well ahead of England in looking at these changes, in particular the necessary measures in merging social care with the NHS. Lord Sutherland added Scotland was also better placed because of inward migration and a rising birth rate which resulted in the record population of 5.29m

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With concern about the affordability of health and social care for the growing population of elderly, he repeated his view that some benefits may have to be re-assessed.

He said: "The story used to be, can we afford social care for the elderly? But now it is, can we afford an NHS that cares for the elderly? We need to combine budgets of social and health care for a more effective spend and be much more clever about this.

"Social care will be one-tenth of the total budget for social and health care, which results in eye-watering figures falling as a burden on the NHS. We need a massive change in priorities."

Lord Sutherland added: "Scotland is doing much better than England on this. Scotland is beginning to make that shift and I take my hat off to the Government here. It is to its great credit it is making these changes.

"But across the developed world the parallel we should be making is with climate change and the need for huge reforms in the way we do things. Demographics is a big issue, and prioritising what we can and can't do is vital."

Colin Mair, chief executive of the Improvement Service – the local authority partnership body – said: "A dichotomy between workers paying taxes and older people depending on them is false. More affluent older people will pay more tax than the average worker in Scotland. Being 65 is not an income tax exemption category.

"Though coverage has focused on the changing demographic, the key evidence is about our growing population and the very positive net migration across the last decade. That challenges insular assumptions about long-term population balance and the future size of our workforce.

"Positively, Scotland would appear to be an attractive place for immigrants to come and raise families. That contributes to future sustainability."