Meals-on-wheels services, luncheon clubs and subsidised meals for older people are increasingly under threat as government cuts take effect, warns the National Association of Care Catering (NACC).
New research published by the NACC for its National Community Meals Week shows that a third of councils no longer provide community meals - through meals on wheels, luncheon clubs and day centres - to the elderly and vulnerable living independently in their own homes. More than half expect further service reductions in the year ahead.
The NACC claims that the cuts put Britain's elderly at risk of malnutrition and social isolation, adding to the cost of an already struggling NHS.
Community meals are currently not statutory. This makes them vulnerable to cuts as councils are forced to identify savings and protect services they are legally obliged to provide. Last month, research by the Local Government Association showed councils had to divert £900m from other budgets to maintain current spending on adult social care services.
National chair Neel Radia has called for the government to look at making community meals a statutory responsibility for councils to protect services for older people.
"It is a crucial preventative service that enables older people to live in their own homes for longer, while maintaining their physical and emotional wellbeing and reducing pressure on the NHS. Non-statutory care services, such as Meals on Wheels and luncheon clubs have been hit hard by cuts to adult social services as councils struggle to make savings," he said "The government should look at making community meals a statutory responsibility for councils to help protect frontline services for vulnerable older people."
Key findings of the community meals research include:
• A third of councils no longer provide a community meals service, although there is wide variation across the UK from only 25% of councils in the north-east still providing a meals on wheels service, to Northern Ireland with 100% coverage
• Some 51% of providers responding said they expect to see further service reductions in the year ahead
• Average price for a two-course lunchtime meal was £3.62, with the south-west being the highest, averaging £4.56, and Northern Ireland the lowest at £1.50.
The NACC states that the number of community meals served has dropped from 40 million a year 10 years ago, to 19 million today. It adds that the number of people eligible for community meals has fallen as a result of adult social care funding cuts and changes to the eligibility assessment criteria.
The organisation published the figures on 11 November at a Pop-up Luncheon Club in the House of Commons co-hosted by Kelvin Hopkins MP. It was part of National Community Meals Week, which ends on 14 November.