The newly released report, A Scotland For The Future, contains a series of proposals on how the nation could grow its population. Although at a record high, Scotland's population is ageing and birth rates continue to fall. As part of efforts to grow the population, ministers have been encouraged to extend access to NHS-funded IVF and other fertility treatments.
'Like many advanced economies we now face different challenges, such as a falling birth rate, while Brexit threatens to significantly reduce inward migration from the EU', said economy secretary Fiona Hyslop. 'This report proposes a series of innovative steps to build a sustainable population by attracting people into Scotland, distributing our population more evenly around the country and helping everyone live long, productive lives.'
Scotland already offers the most generous state-funded IVF provision in the UK. Under the current regulations, couples (same- or mixed-sex) are entitled to up to three cycles, as long as it will be the first child for at least one partner. This compares to two funded cycles in Wales, one in Northern Ireland and none in some areas of England.
The report suggests that widening the access criteria to include single people and couples who already have a child could influence the country's birth rates. Similarly, increasing the number of cycles provided by the NHS may increase the success of IVF treatments.
A country needs to see birth rates of at least 2.1 for its population to grow. In Scotland, the national birth rate has been declining steadily from 2.5 in 1971 to the current record low of 1.37 in 2019. All growth over the next 20 years had been expected to come from inward migration, however, with Brexit and stricter immigration regulations, ministers are concerned migration into Scotland could be affected.
The report also suggests approaches to make Scotland more family-friendly, including support for mothers returning to work, such as flexible working and breastfeeding breaks, and communications strategies to promote migration of young workers and families into Scotland.