‘Elderly will be left without meals on wheels’

08/06/2009 - 00:00
Despite whisperings of an improvement in the economic situation, councils and their cash are continuously being stretched. A new study from Oakhouse Foods explains more.

A new study has revealed that meals on wheels provisions in many areas of the UK are being dropped or made more expensive as councils struggle with budgets. According to the Local Government Association, councils rely on central government for around 75% of their funding, but without increased budget many are struggling to cope with rising demand. This has resulted in a tightening of belts and, in some cases, a withdrawal of community meals services altogether with the number of meals delivered annually dropping to 23 million from 40 million in just a few years. Rotherham Council announced its decision to do away with its meals on wheels service in March this year, news that provoked anger amongst many local people. Birmingham and Wiltshire Unitary Councils are also amongst those to have reviewed subsidised meals for the elderly, opting instead to recommend a number of preferred suppliers as alternatives. Others, including Blaenau Gwent, have had to increase their prices or tighten guidelines for eligibility, which means that many who were previously entitled to subsidised meals will now have to make their own arrangements. The cuts continue a move away from what has become a British institution since the first van packed with steaming plates of pie and chips started doing the rounds in 1947. Daily deliveries of subsidised hot meals are expected to be increasingly replaced by weekly drops of the frozen dishes offered by the small number of private companies stepping up to the plate. Oakhouse Foods founder Tony Blood said: "We have seen a growing trend away from council-run services in recent years and we are delivering to more and more people who previously received meals on wheels. Many councils are simply unable to continue providing subsidised hot meals to local people in need and we are just glad we can offer an alternative. "Providing a service like ours comes with a huge amount of social responsibility as well, and we take this very seriously. Our drivers always make time for a chat with customers and we'll often put deliveries away in the freezer or help out in other ways." The situation is unlikely to change whilst councils are struggling with overstretched budgets and increased demand - expectations are that government funding next year will decrease in real terms, which is likely to exacerbate the issues already being faced. Whether this has a negative impact on our elderly has yet to be seen. What's clear is that central government needs to do more if local councils are to be expected to continue providing services like these.

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