Shake-up for meals on wheels in Norwich
Volunteers could be drafted in to stop vulnerable elderly residents feeling lonely and isolated when a council-run service ends within weeks.
Norfolk County Council is to stop directly providing meals-on-wheels in Norwich next month.
It is feared this could lead to older people receiving fewer visitors and losing vital contact with others, plus paying more for their food.
Talks between Age UK Norwich and the council are continuing to see if a replacement service, which could involve more volunteers delivering meals, can be developed.
The county council is pulling out of providing meals itself and is cutting its annual �1.2m a year subsidy.
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The decision at County Hall to switch to commissioning private companies to provide the meals was made during the Big Conversation, which identified �155m of savings in 2010. But it is from next month that many of the people in Norwich who get their meals from the service will see the difference.
They will need to use their care allowances, known as personal budgets, to buy meals from a list of selected companies.
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And they may find they have to pay more for their meals, because the council currently subsidises meals by an average of �4.96 per meal.
However, the authority is hoping that market forces, with people able to choose which company to get their meals from, will help peg the costs at close to their current levels.
Phil Wells, Age UK Norwich chief executive, said a number of people felt reassured by the daily or weekly visits of people to deliver their meals.
He said the delivery people could also spot the early signs of any problems for their clients.
He said: 'It's understandable the county council cannot use its own funds to do meals themselves.
'We need to find ways to resolve it and we are very keen in Norwich to make sure there's a service in place to make sure people get reassurance daily or weekly, depending what is their need.
'We are working hard with the council to see how we can get a replacement service up-and-running.'
Mr Wells said two practical issues included getting people involved and funding a way of organising it.
He added: 'There's things we can do in both these areas but it means getting more volunteers involved.'
David Harwood, cabinet member for adult and community cervices at Norfolk County Council, said: 'While the current meals on wheels service is valued by the people who receive it, it is not particularly equitable or flexible.
'For example, there are some areas of the county where people can only get meals delivered two days a week.
'There has, in fact, been a significant drop in the number of people using the service in the last few years, so we've been keen to change the way meals are provided for some time, to ensure meals are available to anyone in Norfolk who wants them.
'In the face of the savings the council is being expected to make, we cannot afford to continue subsidising this service, and other councils have already taken this decision. The subsidy will therefore be phased out over the next year.
'Our role in the new meals on wheels service will be to make sure people have good quality and good value meal services available to them.
'We have been working with our Trading Standards team, the voluntary sector and businesses to establish an accredited supplier list that offers people a choice of alternative providers in their area.'
He added the council would continue to work with suppliers and community groups to identify and develop opportunities for delivering meals into people's homes, as well as promoting and supporting community dining and luncheon clubs.
And he stressed: 'I want to reassure people that their current subsidised meals on wheels service will only be withdrawn when local alternatives are available, which is why we are phasing these changes in.'
The current Norwich meals on wheels service will end on Sunday, April 25. Everyone who will be affected by the changes in April has already been written to.
The council will provide all current recipients of meals on wheels with a list of alternative providers. There are 650 people in Norfolk who receive meals on wheels, with 159 in Norwich.
The council-provided service will subsequently be phased out in the rest of the county in the months ahead.
• What do you think of the changes to the meals on wheels service? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email email@example.com