Meals on Wheels service declines rapidly
More than 46,000 older people have lost their Meals on Wheels service in the past three years, according to figures from the Malnutrition Task Force.
The service has been a lifeline for the elderly since the Second World War but has diminished in recent years as a result of cutbacks.
Research released to mark Meals on Wheels Week (9-13 November) showed the number of people receiving meals at home had fallen to 29,605 compared with 75,885 three years ago.
Spending fell by 47% from £42.1m in 2011 to £22.3m last year.
Earlier this week, the National Association of Care Catering (NACC) set up a petition calling for the service to be statutory protected.
The collapse in the service comes as concern grows over the nutrition of the elderly. Official health data shows a 34.2% rise in hospital admissions for malnutrition since 2011.
Diane Jeffrey, chair of the Malnutrition Task Force and 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."
She described the scaling back as a false economy, which will eventually result in the NHS footing the bill.
The task force said Meals on Wheels not only provides a nutritious hot meal, but is also often the only social contact that a vulnerable older person might have during the day.
The Malnutrition Task Force is an independent group of experts from health, social care and local government backed by charities Age UK and the Royal Voluntary Service.
The NACC requires 100,000 petition signatures to be considered for debate in Parliament. Click here to sign the petition.
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