More than 46,000 older people have been stripped of ‘Meals on Wheels’ services in the last three years alone, according to a damning new study.
Shocking new findings released by the ‘Malnutrition Task Force’ – an independent group of experts across health, social care and local government – show that funding on Meals on Wheels services for people over the age of 65 has fallen 47%, from £42.1m in 2010/11 to just £22.3m in 2013/14.
Members of the task force include local government, commissioners, professional associations, GPs, dieticians, NHS service providers and community meal providers.
In less than ten years, funding for Meals on Wheels has been cut by a staggering 80%, the equivalent of 125,000 older people losing out.
This comes as government figures show a 34.2% increase in the number of older people admitted to hospital because of malnutrition. Estimates suggest that 1.3 million older people in the UK suffer with malnutrition, with more than nine in ten living in their own homes.
Age UK says government funding cuts and steep price rises are making the Meals of Wheels service unaffordable for pensioners on low-incomes.
The service not only provides older people with a hot meal, but may also be the only social contact a vulnerable older person has each day.
Meals on Wheels staff are also able to watch over an older persons health and general well-being, and raise concerns before problems become a crisis.
According to Age UK, about 300,000 people aged 65 and over need help with eating or have difficulty eating unaided.
Dianne Jeffrey, Chair of The Malnutrition Task Force and Chairman of Age UK said: “Ensuring older people are well nourished is essential if they are to stay fit and well, and Meals on Wheels have traditionally played an important role in this.
“It is dismaying to see this former mainstay of community care for older people being allowed to shrivel away because of Government cuts. At this rate of decline there won’t be any Meals on Wheels provision left at all in a few years’ time.
“An important preventive service for older people is well on the way to becoming extinct.
“This seems a terrible false economy, since the Meals on Wheels service helps to prevent malnutrition, which makes older people more vulnerable to illness and disease and piles cost onto the NHS, as well as spelling misery for the individuals concerned.
“Meals on Wheels also provide essential social contact for those pensioners who are otherwise entirely alone, an important indirect benefit.”
Last updated at 02:46 on Saturday 14 November.