The Meals on Wheels Crisis

Sep 20, 2018 editor

With colder and windy weather setting in, are provisions in place to protect the nutrition of our elderly neighbours?

As it gets colder, and we wake up in the mornings to find our gardens blanketed in a frost, we start to turn up the heating. We start to add the layers, wrap ourselves up tightly for work, and when we return home, cook warm meals such as a hearty stew and winter-greens. Despite the frost and the ice sometimes covering the ground we are still able to go out and purchase our winter comfort foods, whether that be by car, public transport, or walking. For most of us winter means Christmas, evenings by the fire, and hearty meals. 

But for many elderly people in the UK, winter brings with it a new set of difficulties. For those who are older, and less mobile, the cold and ice prevents them from going out. The extra costs incurred from heating their house over the next few months means they have less to spend on food, and more time is spent indoors. For hundreds of thousands of elderly British people Jack Frost brings with him increased loneliness and isolation, along with the a rising threat from malnutrition.  

Traditionally, around November in the UK, many elderly people begin to receive “Meals-On-Wheels” a service providing nutritious and warm meals, along with some company, for those elderly who cannot get out of their homes, afford, or cook the meals themselves. However, over the last decade, this valuable service has come under increasing threat, and this is set to continue over the coming winter.  

According to an article published by the Malnutrition Task Force, in les than ten years, the number of people receiving this service has fallen over 80%, equating to 125,000 elderly people missing out on “Meals-On-Wheels”. A Freedom of Information requests shows that this figure has dropped by 76,000 between 2009/10 and 2014/15 alone. An article in the Independent quoted these figures as even less, stating in January 2015 that this figure had fallen to 108, 856. These figures are indeed horrifying, and although a small proportion of this decline is made up of elderly people choosing not to have “Meal-On-Wheels” due to a desire for greater quality, they are not in the majority. 

Increasing cuts have put more and more strains on Local Governments, who feel they no longer have the budget to provide this service within their district. However, in being unable to provide these meals, the NHS system is also being increasingly affected. According to figures provided in Hospitality, malnutrition costs the UK £13 billion a year, which is more than that of obesity, with £7.3 billion of this being solely spent on the elderly. With less and less “Meals-On-Wheels” being provided, one can only  wonder how this will leave the elderly and those dependent on a “Meals-On-Wheels” service.  Private companies have had some success in picking up the shortfall, and online shopping is allowing relatives to ensure nutrition is on hand. 

Perhaps this winter, we as a collective should make the extra effort to keep an eye on our elderly neighbours and friends, and make sure that they are getting regular hot meals, have enough food, or are at least that they not so isolated and alone.