The number of pensioners and vulnerable adults receiving meals on wheels in England has fallen by a shocking 63% in just five years, says Labour.
Analysis of official figures, obtained by Labour through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, reveals that 220,000 fewer meals were delivered to pensioners and vulnerable adults over the last five years.
2013/14 saw the largest single drop in the number of delivered meals, falling 49% from 214,306 to 108,856.
According to Labour, an estimated 109,000 people will be delivered meals in 2014/15, down from 296,000 in 2009/10. Labour based its estimate on the number of adults currently receiving meals on wheels.
The cost of providing a single meal to an elderly or vulnerable adult has increased by 22% since the Tory-led coalition took office in 2010, says Labour.
84% of Councils replied to Labour’s FOI request, with the local government minister Kriss Hopkins blaming the decline on local authorities failing to protect frontline social care services.
Kris Hopkins said: “Councils should be providing meals on wheels to those who need it as they are responsible for protecting frontline services.
“They should also be keeping council tax down.
“There is far more scope for savings across the public sector by merging back offices, more joint working, cutting fraud, and embracing transparency to drive out waste and inefficiency.”
However, the Local Government Association (LGA) said councils have been forced to find savings as a direct result of government funding cuts.
Chair of the LGA’s community well-being board, Cllr. Izzi Seccombe, said: “Following the local government finance settlement, councils will have to find £2.6bn savings next year.
“At the same time, a rapidly growing elderly population is driving up the cost of adult social care by hundreds of millions of pounds each year.
“Adult social care funding is in crisis. If social care continues to be inadequately funded, some services will be tipped into failure and vulnerable people will be at risk of losing essential care.”
Liz Kendall, shadow minister for care and older people, said: “Having a decent meal and contact with someone at least once a day is a lifeline for many elderly people.
“We must end this false divide between social care services and the NHS because both are essential to keeping elderly people well and living independently in their own homes.”