Where next for Meals on Wheels?

Ensuring 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 especially for older people.

old person eatingFor some, the delivery of a meal is the only social contact they have during the day. It’s a service that you’d always assume would exist if ever you, or someone in your family, needed it.  Brighton & Hove City Council recently announced they will be changing their Community Meals (‘Meals on Wheels’) provision from April 2016 when the contract with their current provider, RVS, comes to an end by mutual agreement. The plan is to move to a ‘preferred providers list’, so that people in need of a meal are able to choose from a range of different options available to them. The Food Partnership has been invited to be involved in the process and welcomes the opportunity to work with the council to explore options. We are keen that the process achieves the aim of both improving choice, whilst making sure that there is still a service in place for those who need it.

New providers apply here

The food for Brighton & Hove Community Meals (and our hospital food too) is currently prepared in Wales, then frozen and transported to our city to be delivered to people’s homes. We would really like to see providers on the preferred supplier list being from the local area, preferably using sustainable produce and taking into account a range of dietary choices. It is possible. Fair Meals Direct is a not-for-profit scheme started up in April 2014 when it took over from Cumbria County Council’s ‘Meals on Wheels’ service. The meals are freshly prepared using locally-produced food (under a 30-mile radius of Carlisle) in a previously underused kitchen in a hostel which provides emergency accommodation for families. The residents take part in preparing the food, providing useful kitchen skills that they can take with them and a team of volunteers deliver the meals so the clients get the much-needed social contact as well as a hot meal. This video tells their story.

Elsewhere, in Plymouth the provision of Community Meals moved from Adult Social Care to being provided by their School Meals Team. This successful scheme now provides adults with the same freshly cooked hot meals that the children get at school. Plymouth Community Meals has also been awarded the Soil Association’s Food for Life Gold Catering Mark.

So, are you an existing ‘Meals on Wheels’ provider, or a Care Home, a Lunch Club, a School, or even a cafe or catering business that has the capacity to expand into hot meal delivery? We would urge you to get in touch with Will McConchie at Brighton & Hove City Council for further details about applying to be on the preferred suppliers list.  William [DOT] McConchie [AT] brighton-hove [DOT] gov [DOT] uk.

Readily available, affordable and will maintain people’s nutritional needs

The council have made a number of positive commitments around the provision of Community Meals within the city’s Food Poverty Action Plan. The new system must include providers that can deliver a hot, nutritious, affordable meal 365-days a year alongside the ‘safe and well’ check that is so vital to the well being of those that are vulnerable.

Nationally, the number of people receiving ‘Meals on Wheels’ has tumbled by over 80% in 10 years. The Malnutrition Task Force reveals that older people are either losing their meals on wheels provision because of local authority budget cuts or face extremely steep price increases, which can make the ‘Meals on Wheels’ service unaffordable for pensioners living on a low fixed income. The meals provided in our city must therefore be affordable so that those that are most susceptible to food poverty will not become malnourished by being forced to choose a cheaper, less nutritious option.

Investment is key

We would like to see some of the budget currently spent on the Community Meals contract to be used to promote and improve the new range of Community Meals on offer. We would also like to see investment in the right resources, advice and signposting so that more people are aware of the range of Community Meals available to them, and the alternatives.

Shared meals

And there are alternatives to ‘Meals on Wheels’, for example someone might prefer to access transport and support so they can eat with friends, neighbours, or in shared meal settings such as a Lunch Club – this is part of a bright vision for Brighton & Hove becoming ‘the city that cooks and eats together’. Lunch clubs not only provide healthy food at affordable costs, but also reduce isolation and act as a gateway to advice and further support.

Further information on how eating together reduces social isolation can be found in our report on shared meals.

We know that decisions to change the way services are delivered, especially in times of funding cuts, can cause anxiety and it is important that the views of people who receive a community meal are heard and that information about what will happen to the service is communicated clearly.  We will work with partners in the voluntary and community sector to ensure that service user voices are heard in the tendering process. We will encourage the Council to provide regular updates about what is happening to Meals on Wheels. If you have any questions or information you would like to share with us please get in touch.

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