Meals on wheels for elderly in 63% decline under coalition, analysis finds
From：The Guardian View：563 Date：2015-01-05
Meals on wheels deliveries for the elderly and vulnerable have seen a dramatic decline by almost two-thirds under the coalition, a Labour analysis has found.
The research into services offered by English councils revealed there are an estimated 220,000 fewer meals on wheels being served to older people than when the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats came to power. That is a drop of 63% compared with 2010, with prices rising over that time by an average of £237 a year for those who receive meals every day.
The figures were uncovered through freedom of information requests submitted by Liz Kendall, shadow minister for care and older people. She said the decline in the vital services was cutting off a lifeline for many elderly people and was counterproductive for local councils.
“Removing this support isn’t good for them and it’s a false economy too, if their health suffers and they struggle to cope, and they end up having to go into hospital or a care home,” she said. “We must end this false divide between social care services and the NHS because both are essential to keeping elderly people well and living independently in their own homes.”
The FOI requests were sent to English councils with responsibility for meals on wheels, asking how many people received meals on wheels in each of the past five years. Kendall obtained responses from 84% of the councils, finding that in those areas the number in receipt of meals fell from 296,000 in 2009-10 to 109,000 in 2014-15.
She extrapolated this nationally to estimate that 220,000 fewer people are now receiving meals on wheels. Labour found the biggest fall was in the past year when the number of people receiving meals from local authorities fell by almost half. Of the councils that responded, the number of meals given out fell from 214,306 to 108,856 – or more than 125,000 people on a national basis.
The sharp decline in council-supported meals for the elderly comes at a time when local authority budgets are under unprecedented pressure because of sharp cuts to their funding from central government.
Research by the National Association of Care Catering found in November that a third of all UK local authorities have abandoned meals on wheels provision altogether, putting people at risk of malnutrition and social isolation.
It said a further half of councils predicted other service reductions in the coming months because of the tightening of social care budgets.
The Local Government Association said the decline of meals on wheels demonstrated that the current social care system was “not fit for the 21st century”.
At the same time, Neel Radia, chair of the National Association of Care Catering, criticised the cuts to community meals services as “incredibly short-sighted” as it cuts a “lifeline for many vulnerable older people who can face social isolation and loneliness”.