Essex: Meals on Wheels review leaves elderly with ‘tough choice’
Cutting the subsidy for Meals on Wheels could leave the elderly “a stark choice” between heating and eating.
That’s according to opposition councillors concerned about a review of the County Hall Service.
Essex County Council (ECC) has launched a consultation on Meals on Wheels as part of an ongoing review of every service it runs in a bid to save money.
Among the options is removing the 89p subsidy it pays on each meal, which would push the cost up to users to £4.79.
Cutting the service altogether is not an option.
There are 1,003 users of the service across the county, including 97 in Colchester and 104 in Tendring.
Ivan Henderson, deputy leader of the Labour group at County Hall, said: “If the subsidy for each meal were passed on, a user who receives a meal five days a week all year would need to find an extra £218 a year.
“If adopted this cruel policy could force pensioners to make a choice in some cases of whether to pay the increase for a hot meal or to break into their heating allowance which would take a large chunk of their heating money. It could be a stark choice of whether they eat or heat their home in winter.”
Additional concerns have been raised as delivery drivers also provide a well-being check, an added benefit potentially saving the NHS money in early intervention but which could be lost if uptake of Meals on Wheels drops because of a price increase.
Robert Needham, chairman of the trustees of Age UK Colchester, said: “Speaking personally, I see a very difficult situation for ECC and a degree of sympathy for the work they have to do to show savings from all services across the board.
“But it is very regrettable it has an impact on those who most need help.
“With older people it is absolutely essential they get a hot meal. But nutrition is a very small element of the service in my mind.
“The benefit, the most valuable part is the daily visit and the comfort of knowing someone is coming around to see you, that human link.”
Mike Le Cornu, chairman of the Tendring Pensioners’ Action Group, added: “We are extremely concerned at the reduction of facilities for the elderly.
“This is an attack on the welfare state.”
An ECC spokesman said: “Wellbeing checks are an important aspect of the service. If people wanted to switch to an alternative we would make sure their vulnerability is addressed through assessing each case. Many vulnerable people will be using the non-subsidised meals services already. It is a question of what is right for each individual.”