Two countries at opposite ends of Europe are struggling with fertility and demographic challenges.  In Poland, the government has announced a pilot program in the Opolskie region in the southwest of the country. This pilot is called a “special demographic zone” and is designed to boost the region’s dismal population outlook.  Opolskie’s total fertility rate is only 1.082 children per women and the region is predicted to lose 12% of its population by the year 2035.  In response:

“The special demographic zone is a project created by the self-government of the Opolskie province aimed at rebuilding the population potential by opening new jobs and creating good living conditions for families so as to encourage them to have more babies.”

The Polish Government will watch the outcome of this pilot program closely.  The Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, announced the project and is aware that with a fertility rate of only 1.3 children per women, Poland as a whole is predicted to shrink from 38 million people to 32 million people in the next 30 years. This is distressing for any government – fewer people means fewer taxpayers and fewer consumers and an all-round bleak economic outlook! Tusk hopes that the investment in jobs and living conditions in Opolskie will not only be another incentive for Poles to stay in the country and limit emigration but will also encourage foreigners to choose to live in Poland. (Of course, providing economic incentives to immigrants could be hard for the native Poles to swallow. Even worse, imagine if those immigrants were Russians!?) Aside from the Opolskie initiative, the national government is also working on a law which will increase maternity leave from three months to a year, provide for a period of leave for fathers, and will create more nurseries.  These initiatives will all cost a lot of money, but presumably the government thinks that spending some now will be worth it in the long run. Time will tell if throwing money at the problem will encourage Poles to stay in their homeland and multiply.

As we reported back in August, Scotland’s population is both growing and getting older.  This is placing a lot of strain on the Scottish health system and has a lot of policy makers and politicians worried.  In the next few years, Scotland will have to increase its spending on healthcare by about 25% to keep up with the greying population’s demands:

“The country already spends £4.5 billion on health and social care, but this will have to rise by £1.1bn a year by 2016 to keep pace with the changing population.

Opposition parties are now calling for immediate government action to alleviate the looming problem in the coming years.”

Why is this? Because the population of Scotland aged over 65 is expected to increase by 21% between 2006 and 2016.  The problem of caring for the elderly will only get worse as those aged over 65 will increase by 62% by 2031.  The finance committee has been warned that this growth in the elderly will require Scotland to double the number of hospital beds in the coming two decades.  There have also been dark hints about the fact that these elderly will be taking resources from the younger generations:

“The City of Edinburgh Council said that while extra Scottish Government cash through the Change Fund would go some way to helping cope, the money was ‘very unlikely to address it in full, let alone reverse it’.

It adds: ‘Investment in prevention on the scale required can only be funded by ceasing or reducing some existing services. These are difficult choices that call for greater political and public debate.’…

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Scotland’s largest health board, warned ‘immediate pressures of demographic change will make it difficult to fund and support other priority areas with longer term benefit’ and that preventative spend and early years’ intervention would be the areas to suffer.

Bosses there said that the area’s ageing population meant ‘it is unlikely we can realise aspirations to shift resource to preventative spend and early years’.”

Like a good opposition politician, Scottish Conservative MP Jackson Carlow has raised the rhetorical stakes. He told the press:

“Warnings about demographic challenges from those on our front line seem to be becoming more grave by the month. There is a massive train coming down the tracks and our health services are not ready for it. If something isn’t done, we will be left in a situation where our NHS boards are only firefighting, meaning funding will be taken away from all kinds of important challenges. The Scottish Government needs to act now to alleviate this pressure in future years. Hospitals are already running under extremely strained circumstances.”

Of course, the question is what is the Scottish Government meant to do about all of this? Stop funding healthcare for the elderly? Try to reduce the number of old people? It all seems to me that the problem is here to stay. Unless someone can get the euthanasia bill back onto the legislative agenda…? Of course there will be safeguards in place, where would you get the idea that there would be any pressure on old people to kill themselves to free up resources?? That’s just crazy…