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Great disappointment as vital Meals on Wheels service could be facing collapse

Published: 31st October 2023

The UK's Meals on Wheels service is ‘heading for collapse' without Government intervention leaving many thousands of lonely, frail or sick pensioners without a crucial service, a damning report has warned.

Experts are also warning that the current multi-billion-pound bill to the taxpayer will soar if tens of thousands of elderly or needy people are left struggling to shop, cook and feed themselves.

In 2014, two thirds of local authorities funded a Meals on Wheels service (MoWs) in their area. That is now down to 29% across the country and just 18% in England, according to the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE).

The largest declines are in London (-29%), the East of England (-27%) and the East Midlands (-25%).

Only the Yorkshire and Humber region has not seen any reduction in services and remains at 20 per cent. The lowest price charged for a two-course meal in 2023 by a local authority is £1.90 in Northern Ireland while the most expensive is £8.00 set in the South West of England.

The average price across the UK is £4.82, found the APSE research published today (MON) to mark the start of National Meals on Wheels Week.

However, as MoWs is not a statutory service, local councils are under no obligation to offer the meals. Now campaigners including Age UK and Care England, alongside the National Association of Care Catering, are calling on ministers for urgent help.

They have written to MP’s warning of the potentially disastrous ramifications for pensioners and other vulnerable people if such a vital lifeline was cut.

NACC chairman Neel Radia said*: *“Meals on Wheels is a relatively low-cost service and offers multiple lines of support to vulnerable adults.

“The benefits of the service far outweigh the costs. Removing a preventative service for the most vulnerable in our communities is short-sighted.

“We need the Government to step up to the plate and deliver the right funding for councils so that they do not face a choice of long-term prevention services for older people facing the axe knowing this will push up costs to the public purse forcing more vulnerable people into costly care in either residential or hospital settings.

“With the NHS in long-term crisis it is obtuse to add to the public health burden by cutting an ill-health prevention and support service, that is of itself a cost-effective way of supporting older people.”

Mr Radia said campaigners are calling on the Government to put pressure on local councils to safeguard the provision of Meals on Wheels and lunch clubs in the UK.

There also needs to be extra money which should be ringfenced to support the service. A spokesperson for the Local Government Association said: “Councils have long warned that the services older and vulnerable people rely on, including meals on wheels, are coming under increasing threat due to the underfunding of adult social care.

“Immediate investment is needed in the Autumn Statement to end our care gridlock, address unmet and under-met need and ensure timely access to social care for all who need it.”

The first Meals on Wheels scheme originated during the WWII Blitz when it was run by the Women’s Volunteer Service for Civil Defence.

Then in 1943, the WVS in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire was asked to deliver meals for the aged and infirm in the town who were left struggling after their family and friends were caught up with war duties.

By November 1944 WVS members were delivering 213 meals a month on two days every week. A second scheme was started in nearby Letchworth in November 1944 before rolling out across Britain.

The meals are now delivered by a mixture of paid employees and volunteers.

Author: Sarah O'Grady, Social Affairs Editor
Photo source: Getty

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