Poll: Essex Meals on Wheels subsidy won’t be scrapped – but price to increase by 25p

Meals on Wheels' subsidy in Essex will not be scrapped, but the price will increase.

Meals on Wheels' subsidy in Essex will not be scrapped, but the price will increase. - Credit: Archant

Plans to axe the subsidy on Meals on Wheels in Essex have been scrapped by County Hall.

Essex County Council (ECC) launched a consultation in May looking to get rid of the 84p per meal subsidy to service users.

It would have pushed the cost of a meal from £3.95 to £4.79, meaning vulnerable pensioners who had five meals a week would need to find an additional £218 a year.

However Anne Brown, councillor for adult social care and public health, announced today the subsidy would not be removed after feedback showed the move would have made the service unaffordable for many.

Instead the price of each meal will increase by 25p to £4.20. An increase by the rate of inflation, which stood at 2.5% (RPI) last month, would be 10p.

The change will come into force from November 1, and service users are being contacted about the increase.


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Mrs Brown said: “The consultation showed us that Meals on Wheels’ customers really valued the service that is offered.

“I am delighted that we have been able to protect this service, allowing older residents across the county to have access to an affordable hot meal.

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“ECC is faced with significant financial pressures and we have had to review the subsidy ECC currently pays towards these meals.

“From November we will reduce the subsidy ECC pays, resulting in a 25p increase in the cost of meals for service users.

“I believe this is a manageable increase for service users and ensures our Meals on Wheels service remains low compared to the private market and other local authorities. “Ultimately this is good news for Meals on Wheels service users and shows we have truly listened to consultation feedback. Meals on Wheels’ costs remain extremely low and affordable, and have only increased by 45p in the last seven years.”

There are 1,003 users of the service across the county, including 97 in Colchester and 104 in Tendring.

The decision to increase the cost of meals could still be challenge by opposition councillors.

There had been widespread criticism of the Conservative administration’s original plans from opposing parties at County Hall when the review was announced four months ago.

Today Labour deputy group leader Ivan Henderson said free meals for councillors at County Hall cost £68,459 since 2012/13 which could be used to cover the £60,988 rise in cost for Meals on Wheels’ users, otherwise pensioners may be faced with a choice between heating and eating.

Mr Henderson said: “Only ECC’s Tory cabinet could begin the run up to Christmas by increasing the cost of Meals on Wheels while dining free of charge at County Hall. I’m sure they will also have the heating turned up in the members’ dining room to make sure it is nice and warm while they eat.

“Their treatment of the elderly and vulnerable is callous beyond belief.”

Mike Le Cornu, chairman of the Tendring Pensioners’ Action Group (TPAG), said: “TPAG is against any rises at all because it is the most vulnerable that are affected, and the most vulnerable should be protected.

“The assurance we were given was that whatever cuts that were necessary would not affect the vulnerable, but that is what they are doing.

“They are sitting around making these decisions while they themselves have their free meals at County Hall which cost the tax payer. If they want to cut anything they could cut that.

“This is balancing the books on the backs of pensioners.”

Anyone with concerns about the increase should contact their social worker or Social Care Direct on 0845 603 7630.

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