Sadly our story on 92-year-old Maureen Doran, who had her meals-on-wheels service cut without any notice, is part of an increasingly grim picture for our vulnerable elderly people starved of services in the face of continuing cuts.
Suffering from dementia and living on her own in Peckham without an oven and only a microwave to cook in, her only real lifeline now appears to be her 77-year-old sister living a good distance away in Merton.
She does have carers visiting her, but that should not be considered a luxury, as neither should the meals-on-wheels. She wants to continue to live independently and the council has always been committed to this. Indeed independent living saves Southwark Council and other local authorities money, but it is a false economy if having to cut back on services like this puts more pressure on home care budgets and results in more hospital admissions. And without the service it will slow down the discharge from hospital for older people wanting to return to their homes.
What is really worrying about this snapshot into one vulnerable person’s situation in Southwark is the lack of information given to a woman suffering from dementia and her family.
Indeed our own enquiries have left us unclear on who is and is not still entitled to this subsided service.
Meals-on-wheels was an idea that was first put into practice more than 70 years ago during the war and became a part of the post-war social service provision.
However, the service is not protected by law and now fewer than half of all councils are still providing a meals-on-wheels service after six years of spending cuts.
Councils are being forced to focus only on their statutory responsibilities and Southwark Council has told us that they are not joining other councils by stopping the service altogether, but have to re-examine the criteria to ensure that the service can continue.
Southwark should be commended for not going down a route of just cutting it outright, as a hot meal and the regular contact helps not only combat malnutrition but also serves to identify other illnesses and isolation.
However, they need to be clear on who is affected by these cuts and inform them, with plenty of time for them to make other arrangements or get their family, friends or social worker to argue their case for it to remain.
The most vulnerable are unable to shout loudly and they will go unnoticed unless we all join the council, charities and push our MPs to get the government to provide local authorities with the funding. We must ensure our system does not just give these people the statutory service of making sure they are washed, dressed and fed, but allows them to live dignified and independent lives.