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Transforming meals on wheels

What are meals on wheels?

Meals on wheels services deliver hot or frozen meals to older people, those with limited mobility and other people with health conditions. Meals are delivered in disposable containers and usually take into consideration the dietary requirements and cultural needs of the client. Delivery options can vary, with some services delivering food 7 days a week 365 days per year. Some providers have delivery staff who help plate up the meal and carry out safety and wellbeing checks, as well as linking clients into other services and support.

Why is it important?

Meals on wheels is a vital service which supports thousands of older people every day to stay independent in their own homes and enrich their lives. Nationally more than 1.3 million people over the age of 65 are malnourished. Malnutrition makes people more susceptible to physical and mental ill-health, extends hospital stays and makes re-admission more likely; indeed malnutrition accounts for nearly £20bn of health and social care spending in England.

There is no one solution to reducing malnutrition among older people. Valuable activities include lunch clubs or other forms of shared meals, improving care and hospital provision, influencing people’s eating habits. Meals on wheels can provide a lifeline to people struggling to feed themselves in their own homes. But a meals on wheels service is about more than just food – the drivers and other staff can provide regular social contact, and make sure the most isolated and vulnerable people are receive safety and wellbeing checks and getting support from other services

What is the current situation?

In recent years meals on wheels services have been neglected or terminated in many parts of the UK. In 2014 services were provided by two thirds or top tier authorities, but by 2016 this had declined to less than half of councils. Yet there are examples of councils championing meals on wheels services, as well as working with local partners to save and enhance the service. For example, Hertfordshire Independent Living Service has expanded its offer beyond meal delivery and in Plymouth, local authority trading company CATERed prepares meals for older people in collaboration with a local care provider.

What should councils and their partners do?

There is real potential for councils and their partners to use meals on wheels as a way to help people retain their health and independence and there are working examples of services doing this. We would like councils and their partners to:

  1. Save, reintroduce and enhance services by exploring examples of effective models for meals on wheels services which address a wide range of needs and health and wellbeing objectives.
  2. Maximise referrals to local services by ensuring all relevant public sector staff are aware of local provision and how people can register.
  3. Provide strategic leadership by ensuring local services link in with meals on wheels services to bring multiple benefits, such as nutritional advice, falls prevention and fire safety.

Further resources are available here.

What are we doing?

We are taking action to protect and enhance meals on wheels services by sharing information through our London Food Poverty Campaign, Food Power and Sustainable Food Cities programmes. We are currently seeking further resources to expand our work in this area to enable us to offer increased practical support to local areas which wish to reinvigorate or reintroduce a meals on wheels service. Our current funding supports work in London in particular. We are currently:

  • Gathering case studies: In 2016, we teamed up with the National Association of Care Caterers (NACC) to produce a series of case studies which looks into four different models of provision from across the UK. We are disseminating these case studies and seeking more examples from around the UK.
  • Monitoring provision across London: Every year we ask councils to tell us what they are doing to support and enhance Meals on Wheels provision in their boroughs. The results are published in our annual league table called Beyond the Food Bank which is our comprehensive food poverty profile that looks at what local authorities are doing to reduce food poverty across a range of measures.  Available as a report here or via our interactive online maps.
  • Engaging London boroughs: In February 2018, officers and councillors from across London’s 33 boroughs attended a roundtable to examine best practice in meals on wheels service provision. Speakers included Sara Wren from Hertfordshire Independent Living Service (HILS) and Neel Radia from National Association of Care Catering. We are also arranging visits for London borough representatives to London Independent Living Service (LILS) – an extension of HILS’ service operating in Camden and Haringey. Attendees can shadow a delivery round and see first-hand how valuable the service is to its users.

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Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming

Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.