Meals On Wheels and Community Meals Services Face Bleak Future As Local Government Cuts Bite

Oak House Residential Home in Greetham, Rutland, were proud to have hosted a ‘pop-up lunch club’ in support of the recent National Community Meals Week, and they would like to share the following information with readers of La Vie Magazine.

Britain’s elderly face the risk of malnutrition and social isolation. Adding to the cost of an already struggling NHS. Government cuts have hit community meals services according to campaigners. New research published for National Community Meals Week show that a third of councils no longer provide community meals to elderly and vulnerable residents. Although there is wide variation across the UK from only 25 per cent of councils in the north east still providing the meals on wheels service, while Northern Ireland has 100 per cent coverage. 

The figures were published on 11 November 2014 at a pop-up luncheon club in the House of Commons as part of National Community Meals Week. A series of relay events were also organised across the country to highlight the importance of community meals services. The meals are not statutory, meaning they face considerable pressure as councils are forced to identify savings and protect services they are legally obliged to provide. Last month, research by the Local Government Association showed councils were forced to divert £900 million from other budgets simply to maintain current spending on adult social care services. The National Association of Care Catering (NACC) states that the number of community meals served has dropped from 40 million a year 10 years ago, to 19 million today. NACC warn that the number of people eligible for community meals has fallen as a result of adult social care funding cuts and changes to the assessment criteria over who is eligible. 

Other key data affecting older people’s care and community meals includes

• More than one million older people are malnourished
(BAPEN 2009)
• Ninety three per cent of people with malnutrition in the UK
are older people living in the community, five per cent in care homes, two per cent in hospitals (BAPEN 2009)
• NICE identifies better nutritional care as the third largest
source of cost savings to the NHS. 

Neel Radia, Chair of the National Association of Care Catering and organiser of the Community Meals Week said:
“The Community Meals Service is a crucial preventative service that enables vulnerable older people to live in their own homes for longer, whilst maintaining their physical and emotional well being and reducing pressure on the NHS. Non statutory care services, such as Meals on Wheels and Luncheon clubs have been hit hard by cuts to adult social services as councils struggle to make savings. The abolition of community meals services is incredibly short-sighted and cuts a lifeline for many vulnerable older people who can face social isolation and 

loneliness. A visit to a Luncheon Club or the delivery of a meal provides the regular friendly human contact that we all need, and the vital well being and safety checks that vulnerable older people require, particularly in the colder winter months. The government should look at making community meals a statutory responsibility for councils to help protect services for vulnerable older people.”  

Meals on wheels are a cost effective lifeline for tens of thousands of older people across the country. But it’s not just about the food. It’s about the personal contact, relationships and the wider benefit that the service brings by keeping in touch with people and maintaining their well being. We have to see the wider picture and rather than cut these vital services – begin to see them expand. In contrast, the cost of keeping someone in hospital a day is £255 (Alzheimer’s Society, May 2012). At any given time over 65s occupy 65% of all hospital beds available (Kings College London Gerontology report).