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Meals on Wheels will collapse without government intervention, report says

“Meals on wheels” services which provide tens of thousands of vulnerable people with vital hot food are heading for UK-wide collapse without government intervention, experts have warned.

The National Association of Care Catering (NACC) found that only 29 per cent of services are still in operation across the UK, and fewer than 18 per cent in England, amid cuts to local services.

There is no statutory requirement for local authorities to offer such a scheme, which delivers food to elderly and disabled residents, so councils can opt to axe services to save money.

But a report from the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) says that malnutrition, leading to longer hospital stays, costs the UK taxpayer £19bn per year.

Meals-on-wheels services support vulnerable people to live independently in the community by reducing the risk of malnutrition, loneliness, or social isolation. Alongside at least one nutritious hot meal every day, the regular caring contact helps reduce avoidable health and care costs, as well as providing support for carers.

The NACC is calling on the Government to ensure councils receive urgent funding to directly support the continuation of existing meals-on-wheels services, including direct funding to reinstate meals-on-wheels services lost in recent years. The group also wants ministers to consider it a statutory responsibility to safeguard its future.

The NACC, along with several other signatories that include Age UK and Care England, wrote to MPs on Monday to raise its concerns for the future of the Meals on Wheels services and for the far-reaching and potentially disastrous ramifications if such a vital lifeline into older and more vulnerable people living in our communities was to be lost completely.

NACC chair Neel Radia said: “With councils facing a funding gap of some £7bn in adult social care, cutting a service which is relatively low-cost in offering multiple lines of support to vulnerable adults is frankly a cheap cut. The benefits of the service far outweigh the costs. Removing a preventative service for the most vulnerable in our communities is short-sighted.

“We need the Government to step up to the plate and deliver the right funding for councils so that they do not face a choice of long-term prevention services for older people facing the axe, whilst at the same time knowing that this approach will push up costs to the public purse forcing more vulnerable people into costly care in either residential or hospital settings.”

The Government has been approached for comment.