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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “More than 1m UK older people risk ‘withering away’ from hunger” was written by Patrick Butler Social policy editor, for theguardian.com on Monday 22nd January 2018 14.44 UTC

More than 1 million older people are at risk of “withering away in their own homes” as a result of malnutrition caused by social isolation and cuts to public services, a cross-party group of peers and MPs claims.

The all-party parliamentary group on hunger says social isolation caused by bereavement, illness, immobility or confinement – such as through the loss of a driving licence – are the main causes of a largely “hidden” problem of elderly hunger in the UK.

Malnutrition, which costs the NHS an estimated £12bn a year, is exacerbated by reductions to social care packages, cuts to meals on wheels services and bus services, and local shop closures, a report by the all-party group says.

“Loneliness accompanied by a bowl of cereal and two sandwiches, every day, every week, should be unacceptable in modern Britain. But within the current legislative framework, it is almost inevitable,” it says.

The report says there is a heightened risk of malnutrition among older people who do not qualify for formal social care packages or whose help does not include assistance with shopping or cooking hot meals.

Annual spending on meals on wheels services was cut from £96m to £42m in the decade to 2013-14, it says. Fewer than half of local authorities now provide the service, down from 66% in 2011. Some councils have replaced meals on wheels with a link on their website to takeaway food shops, the report adds.

It calls for the withdrawal of winter fuel allowances from the very richest pensioners to invest in local services aimed at reducing isolation, hunger and malnutrition by providing – or making it easier for older people to access – hot and fresh food.

Supermarkets should do more to make it easier for older people to go shopping, it says, by providing community transport, offering lunch clubs in store cafes and introducing special “slow” checkout lanes for less mobile customers.

There are at least 1.3 million older people suffering from or at risk of malnutrition, the report estimates, although it points out that the latest robust figures date back to 2011, and hospitals rarely record malnutrition as a primary reason for admission.

Frank Field, chair of the parliamentary group, said: “Hidden beneath the radar, there are malnourished older people in this country spending two or three months withering away in their own homes, with some entering hospital weighing five and a half stone [35kg] with an infection or following a fall, which keeps them there for several tortuous days, if not weeks.

“The elimination of malnutrition amongst older people is urgently required for the sake of the NHS, and social care services, but above all for purposes of humaneness.”

Izzi Seccombe, chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said: “Significant funding pressures on councils are already threatening services that elderly people and their friends and families rely on, particularly meals on wheels and luncheon clubs.”

A government spokesperson said: “Malnutrition is a complex issue and most patients diagnosed in England have other serious health and social problems. We know better diagnosis and detection is key which is why we continue to train all health staff to spot the early warning signs of malnutrition so effective treatment can be put into place.”

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5 COMMENTS

  1. It’s not only pensioners who are suffering, it’s also should be pensioners! The women born in the 1950s who have been targeted by two state pension age rises at too short notice. Some are almost suicidal wondering how they will manage to cope until they finally reach 66! These are women who worked from 15 years of age, before equality of wages with men and before women had the opportunity to save for a private pension. They are now working until they drop, with age related complaints, going through humiliation to beg for benefits which are not enough to live on anyway, or living off the meagre savings they had put by to help manage financially in their old age. Single women and widows have no one to help them out and married women are having to live off their husbands, even though they have paid in all their working lives. It’s a disgrace that any older person has to suffer this way, whether pensioner or should be pensioner!

  2. If my mother didn’t have me she would be dead! She’s one of the forgotten ladies who has had to use all her savings instead of enjoying retirement. She really is struggling on jsa. Searching and applying for jobs she isn’t going to get. Threats of sanctions at every sign on. Sent on meaningless courses and unpaid work experience. She is 63 years old, ill, and just been put on an 18 month job search course. 18 months! That will take her to just another year before finally getting her pension. Let’s not forget, these ladies have lost more than their pension. Bus passes, winter fuel payments etc, etc. It’s an absolute disgrace that this country treats their older people in such a way. How can you plan for the future when the goal posts are moved but nobody tells you?

  3. All this is sadly true but also there is another group at risk of this very thing and it’s the 1950’s women who through two state pension age rises have to wait up to 6 years longer than they originally thought for their state pensions. In particular the effects of the 2011 accelerated rise has thrown some women into poverty, those who thought they had planned and provided for their future but who suddenly had up to an extra 18 months added to their waiting time with very little notice, some who had already made the decision to leave employment and were living on savings calculated to last until their state pension age under the 1995 Act were suddenly faced with having to spin it out for an extra 18 months. Some women, particularly single women and widows are having to choose between heating their home or filling their tummies, some have lost their homes or had to sell up to survive, some have to visit food banks, many have to go through humiliating work capability tests, attend Job Centres daily, prove they are searching for jobs when really everyone knows that no-one will employ a 60+ woman, and some have even gone after apprenticeships at £3.50 an hour to escape the wrath of the DWP. because we are not classed as pensioners our plight is ignored by the government who time after time have refused to consider helping us and who will not admit that the second state pension age rise was badly worked out and inhumane. So yes some pensioners are struggling but also some women who desperately want the dignity of the pension they have worked all their lives for are also struggling and no one seems to care.

  4. “we continue to train all health staff to spot the early warning signs of
    malnutrition so effective treatment can be put into place.” – nonsense! All they ( in gov) need to do is stop cutting pensions and services for our elderly, disabled and mentally ill.

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