Joint letter to council leaders re. meals on wheels

Dear [Council Leader], 

We are a group of representatives from civil society organisations, businesses, social enterprises and academia, united around our commitment to the health and wellbeing of older people across London and the UK. We are writing to you as leader of [XX] Council regarding the 2021/22 budget setting process to urge you and your colleagues to ensure that vital food services for older people in your borough are protected, enhanced, or put in place. 

Even before the pandemic, it was estimated that more than 1.3 million people over the age of 65 were malnourished or at risk of malnutrition, with over 90% of these living in the community. Malnutrition makes people more susceptible to physical and mental ill-health, extends hospital stays and makes re-admission more likely – malnutrition accounts for nearly £20bn of health and social care spending in England. Compounding this, the Covid-19 pandemic has made it difficult for many people to access good food daily, not least older people and disabled people, who were already at high risk of malnutrition. 

Whilst there are a number of ways to support older and disabled people to access good food daily – like investing in lunch clubs and day centres or good care-home and hospital food – having a robust meals on wheels service locally is a vital cornerstone to tackling the issue. 

Meals on wheels services provide multiple benefits to individuals and communities in numerous ways as they: 

  • Are more than just a meal: through welfare checks, daily social contact, and complimentary services including active ageing advice and classes, and ‘scam-busting’ support, meals on wheels services act as vital lifeline to people who are at risk of isolation are medically vulnerable, or are unable to cook for themselves or leave their homes. These services drastically improve quality of life and in so act as a preventative service that mitigates against risk. 
  • Are a preventative and cost-saving service in the long-term: by keeping older people, medically vulnerable people and others at risk of malnutrition or isolation healthy and connected, these services are cost-saving overall. They reduce numbers of GP visits, emergency hospital visits for falls or ill-health, and increase the number of years that older residents will retain independence in their homes. The majority of health and social care services are provided for the highest needs of the most frail and medically vulnerable. Conversely if preventative support such as meals on wheels can be accessed early enough, the need for more costly interventions can be reduced significantly. 
  • Increase community resilience to times of crisis: Meals on wheels services can be ‘scaled up’ to meet increased need for instance when weather is bad during the winter and it is harder for older people to leave their homes safely. Indeed during the initial Covid-19 lockdown many services saw substantial spikes in demand with many scaling up rapidly to meet this. During crisis these services can thus keep older residents safe, connected and nourished when they are at increased risk of isolation and malnutrition. 
  • Can create good jobs for local communities: With proper investment, these services create good jobs and in particular for people most at risk of unemployment as a result of the pandemic, as many delivery staff are people previously employed in service sector jobs. 

Despite all of this, meals on wheels services have been cut in many areas in recent years  – according to the National Association of Care Catering meals on wheels service across the country have reduced by at least 42% and in London less than 10 boroughs provide or fund the service. Now more than ever we must support older and disabled people to be able to stay healthy, safe and nourished in their own homes.

We urge you to review the council’s spending on food for older and disabled people in your area, and in particular to ensure that funding for meals on wheels services is made available. Across the country, numerous community groups have started providing meal delivery services for those in need during the initial lockdown. But to be sustainable, these groups need financial backing as well as support to integrate with adult social care so that they can access regular and appropriate referrals. Indeed, robust referral systems are as vital as financial support, and the council has a vital role to play in ensuring this holistic and integrated approach is made possible. 

We urge your to ensure that your council:

  1. Protects, reintroduces or enhances a local meals on wheels service.
  2. Promotes a ‘more than meal’ approach where services include welfare checks, links to other support, and a lifeline of regular contact.
  3. Champions innovative and strategic approaches that recognise the long-term benefits and cost-savings of meals on wheels for older people, for communities, and for the public purse.
  4. Support robust and well integrated referral routes for meals on wheels services, that automatically link this service as a referral option for caseworkers on hospital discharge teams and in adult social care. 

We would welcome any discussion with you regarding these issues. 

Yours sincerely 

Kath Dalmeny, Chief Executive, Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming

Morven Oliver-Larkin, Older People’s Food Campaign Coordinator, Sustain

Simon Shaw, Churchill Fellow 

Sue Cawthray, Chair, National Association of Care Catering 

Neel Radia, Meals on Wheels Lead, National Association of Care Catering 

Tom Cottam, Director of Strategy and Development, Hertfordshire Independent Living Service

Roger Hargreaves, Divisional Manager; Local Authority, Apetito

Peter Clarke, Managing Director, Dartmoor Community Kitchen hub 

Dr Angela Dickinson, Senior Research Fellow, University of Hertfordshire

For correspondences please contact Morven Oliver-Larkin  

Joint letter to council leaders re. meals on wheels
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