This post was contributed by Dianne Jeffery, chair of the Malnutrition Task Force and Chairman of Age UK.
This week is Meals on Wheels Week, a great initiative that brings the care sector together to raise awareness about the importance of Meals on Wheels services.
No one should doubt the importance of Meals on Wheels. Since 1943, the year of its introduction, the service has always played an integral role in the care of the elderly and most vulnerable in society.
By delivering straight to someone’s door, it is vital in helping those who are unable to purchase or prepare their own hot meal and can be a real social boon for those who struggle to get out.
Older people ‘stripped’ of Meals on Wheels
So I have deep concerns over Malnutrition Task Force figures showing that more than 46,000 older people have been stripped of their Meals on Wheels service in the past three years, and in less than 10 years the number of people receiving Meals on Wheels has tumbled by over 80 per cent.
This is a real worry. For many who receive Meals on Wheels, it’s the only hot meal they’ll eat each day and the service is imperative in ensuring they stay fit and well nourished.
It is widely believed malnutrition is only a problem in developing countries and has been consigned to the history books in the UK, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Over one million people above the age of 65 suffer from malnutrition, and 93% of those at risk or suffering live in the community, showing why community nutrition services like Meals on Wheels are so important.
We wouldn’t want our own older relatives to go without a hot meal, so why are we putting others at risk?
Severe spending cuts
The tumble in the numbers of people receiving Meals on Wheels – and so being put at risk of malnutrition – has come on the back of severe spending cuts to the service. In only three years, spending on Meals on Wheels for older people has been reduced by just under 50 per cent. At the same time, in many areas the price of Meals on Wheels has increased so steeply that it has become unaffordable for pensioners living on low fixed incomes.
This couldn’t be more short-sighted. Malnutrition makes older people more susceptible to illness and disease and piles costs of up to billions of pounds a year onto health and social care. Meals on Wheels can play an essential role in preventing this, so there is no economic justification for spending on it to be so sharply curtailed.
More than just a meal
We must also remember that Meals on Wheels is more than just providing a nutritious meal. For some, the delivery of a meal is the only social contact they have during the day. The delivery staff are also well placed to raise any concerns about a person’s health or their ability to cope at home, before a crisis is reached. With cuts and price increases, we will see people who may be isolated through no fault of their own at risk of being cut off further.
Meals on Wheels – a national institution
These trends in public spending on Meals and Wheels are shocking and must be reversed. Malnutrition comes at a high cost for many older people. We should ensure that Meals on Wheels is not seen as a throwaway service, but rather as a national institution. One that can tackle the root of nutritional problems and ensure everyone, particularly vulnerable and older people, can eat a hot, nutritious meal on a daily basis.
This will not only save money, but, more importantly, save lives.
To find out more about the Week, read this blog from Neel Radia, the National Chair of the National Association of Care Catering (the organisation behind the Week)
You can read more about healthy eating on the Age UK website