NACC Warns Community Meals Services Face Bleak Future As Local Government Cuts Bite

The National Association of Care Catering (NACC) has today issued a stark warning that Britain’s elderly face the risk of malnutrition and social isolation, whilst adding to the cost of an already struggling NHS, as government cuts hit community meals services.

New research published by the NACC for its National Community Meals Week shows that a third of councils no longer provide community meals – through meals on wheels, luncheon clubs and day centres – to the elderly and vulnerable living independently in their own homes. Over half expect further service reductions in the year ahead.

The NACC National Chair, Neel Radia, has also called for Government to look at making community meals a statutory responsibility for councils to protect services for older people.

The NACC – supported by MPs, local authorities, caterers and campaigners such as the National Pensioners Convention – is using the week to highlight the pressure on meal services and the devastating affect their removal could have on the quality of life of the tens of thousands relying on the vital lifeline that provides nutritious meals, regular social interaction and safety checks for those in need.

Meals-on-wheels services, luncheon clubs and subsidised meals for older people have been hit by the scale of cuts facing local government, the research finds.

Key findings of the community meals research (regional breakdown in notes to editor):

  • A third of councils no longer provide a community meals service, although there is wide variation across the UK from only 25 per cent of councils in the north east still providing a meals on wheels service to Northern Ireland with 100 per cent coverage.
  • 51 per cent of providers responding said they expect to see further service reductions in the year ahead.
  • Average price for a two course lunchtime meal was £3.62, with the South West being the highest averaging £4.56 and Northern Ireland the lowest at £1.50.

The figures published on Tuesday 11 November at a Pop-up Luncheon Club in the House of Commons, the national focus of National Community Meals Week, take the important message to the heart of Government.  Hosted by Kelvin Hopkins MP and Neel Radia, the event attendees include MPs and service-users, as well as representatives of local authorities and service providers.

Community 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 NACC states that the number of community meals served has dropped from 40 million a year ten years ago, to 19 million today. NACC warns that the number of people eligible for community meals has fallen as a result of adult social care funding cuts and changes to the eligibility assessment criteria.

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 hospital (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 older people to live in their own homes for longer, whilst maintaining their physical and emotional wellbeing 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 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 wellbeing and safety checks that the elderly require, particularly in the colder winter months.

“The government should look at making community meals a statutory responsibility for councils to help protect frontline services for vulnerable older people.”

Dot Gibson, General Secretary of the National Pensioners Convention added:

“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 wellbeing. We have to see the wider picture and rather than cut these vital services – begin to see them expand.”

The NACC National Road Relay is also highlighting the importance of community meals services regionally throughout the week. Starting in the South West on Monday 10 November and ending in Scotland on Friday 14 November, each NACC regional committee will work alongside regional members, organisations and businesses, community representatives, members of the public and local media to transport a meal and the vital message throughout the regions, covering as much ground and reaching as many people as possible.