24 per cent of the UK’s local authorities have stopped offering a Meals on Wheels service since 2014. Just 42 per cent of local authorities now offer any kind of Meals on Wheels service to elderly and vulnerable people living in our communities.
These are the findings of new research from the National Association of Care Catering (NACC) for Meals on Wheels Week 2018 (5-9 November).
The survey of the higher tier authorities in the UK shows a steady decline in the provision of Meals on Wheels services since the NACC first commissioned the research in 2014, when 66% of UK local authorities provided a service, and again in 2016, when the figure was 48%.
The research also shows that the number of councils subsidising the service financially has decreased from 80 per cent in 2016 to just 58 per cent in 2018. This reduction in the provision of Meals on Wheels is due to the drastic reduction in Adult Social Care budgets, estimated to be over £2 billion by the Local Government Association.
The NACC is calling on the Government to increase funding to communities across the country to secure the future of the Meals on Wheels services, whether provided by a local authority, charity, voluntary group or private enterprise. The service brings considerable benefits to its users and is also proven to reduce the pressure on health and social care services by improving the overall health and wellbeing of service users and allowing people to continue living in their own homes.
As highlighted in the research, the North West is now the worst area of the country for Meals on Wheels, with only 13 per cent of councils providing the service, down from nearly half of councils in 2014. It is also slim pickings in the North East, where just 17 per cent of councils offer meals to older people at home. In the East Midlands, nearly four in every ten councils have cut their Meals on Wheels service in the last four years.
Meals on Wheels – more than just a meal
The Meals on Wheels service enables the elderly and vulnerable to live independently in their homes for longer. It keeps them nourished and hydrated with a nutritious daily meal (in many cases the only one they will have each day) and provides an essential preventative service that reduces costly malnutrition-related admissions to hospital that are adding to the terrible strain on the NHS.
For the majority of service users, Meals on Wheels is so much more than just a meal. It is a social lifeline that eases the devastating effects of isolation and loneliness. The delivery of a meal brings regular human contact, which for many may be the only interaction they enjoy. It also provides much-needed wellbeing and safety checks, again, crucial for those that may not see anyone else during the day.
Meals on Wheels Week 2018
As well as raising awareness of the decline in essential Meals on Wheels services and the need to protect the service, Meals on Wheels Week activity champions the positive, innovative work of NACC members and social care providers that has enabled services to continue despite austerity.
Meals on Wheels Week 2018 activities include:
Food Poverty Conference at City Hall – organised by the charity Sustain, the NACC will focus on Meals on Wheels as part of a round table discussion on tackling food poverty, alongside London authorities, on Monday 5 November
Innovative case studies – inspirational case studies from NACC members that show how innovation and alternative models have enabled services to continue to run and benefit the community will be released during Meals on Wheels Week, in partnership with Sustain. On Thursday 8 November, an interactive webinar will discuss the case studies
VIP on Wheels – across the country Meals on Wheels services are inviting local dignitaries and celebrities to join a delivery round to see first-hand the positive impact the service has on service users and the community
Neel Radia, national chair of the NACC, said:
“Meals on Wheels is a vital part of social care and a lifeline that helps elderly and vulnerable people to keep a level of independence in their own homes. It’s therefore disappointing, if not unexpected, to see a further decline in service provision across the UK. The meals provided by these services are carefully tailored to meet customers’ dietary requirements, and their loss could lead to malnutrition, greater social isolation and loneliness. Meals on Wheels isn’t just about delivering a meal. Service providers regularly check upon elderly and vulnerable people to make sure they are fed and hydrated and that their health isn’t deteriorating. For many older and vulnerable people, the Meals on Wheels delivery might be the only friendly face they see from one day to the next. Just a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister asked postal workers to check on elderly and vulnerable people as part of her new loneliness strategy. Meals on Wheels already provides this vital contact, but when it comes to concrete action to support this efficient and beneficial service, we only see shrinking budgets. The Government has claimed they will bring about the ‘end of austerity’, but vulnerable people are seeing services they depend on disappear because of the squeeze in local authorities’ budgets. The Government should safeguard Meals on Wheels services by making sure councils have the funding and resources necessary to provide them. On a positive note, NACC members and providers across the country are not giving up on the Meals on Wheels service easily. We have seen exceptional examples of providers thinking differently and finding alternative approaches and models that have enabled them to continue to run the service, and most importantly, continue to benefit the community and the people they serve both today and in the future. This is what we are championing during Meals on Wheels Week and I encourage everyone to follow the event on social media and, where possible, take part.”