Last week, I met with the National Association of Care Catering. Perhaps best known for their famous 'Meals on Wheels' initiative, it's an organisation with a proud history of helping vulnerable people across the country, by playing a vital role in ensuring a good standard of food catering within the care sector. As well as helping to provide a 'frontline' care service, they host seminars, conferences and commission research into how the care sector can be improved. With high-tech equipment such as the new Vangen system, they operate across the country and provide a fantastic, valuable service - even in London they manage to provide hot meals for just £3.68.
The Decline In 'Meals On Wheels'
It might be a shock to hear their flagship 'Meals on Wheels' service is slowly being stripped away. Over the years, local authorities have helped to subsidise it, but with cuts to local government heavily impacting its funding, it's in decline. 69% of local authorities still manage to maintain the service, but since 2010 we've seen them consistently dropping at a rate of about two or three per year. By 2016, it's estimated that as many as 14 local authorities will have scrapped it since 2010, and many of them have provided no guarantee that they'll still be involved for much longer. Moreover, we've seen a sharp decline in initiatives like lunch clubs for older people, which has an impact not just on health and wellbeing but community. With such a funding crisis, volunteers at charities like Age UK are becoming harder to come by, too.
This is exactly the sort of problem that my fundraising schemes are in place for. I've written previously about a Londoners' fund: an initiative that would be maintained by such measures as the hotel tax and the London Lottery, directed towards important everyday services that can, unfortunately, go neglected. However, by funding services like Meals on Wheels, we can actually save money in the long run, as well as helping out those in need.
The Wider Care Needs Of London's Older People
Here's how. The decline of social services has been linked to the rise in 'bed-blocking' - people are increasingly looking to remain in hospital for longer than they really need to be, so they have the safety and comfort of being looked after. It's estimated that bed-blocking in over-65s costs the NHS £287m each year. If we're looking at under £4 for a hot meal and a carer to deliver it and say hello, it becomes clear that funding these services is born out of not just a moral impulse - it makes good business sense.
We can go even further than just Meals on Wheels. In the next 20 years, the government estimates that the percentage of people over 85 years old will double, requiring an even greater emphasis on those with 'complex health needs'- those that need both health and social care. By integrating and thus saving money in this way, the service can be greatly improved - meals can be delivered by care workers who can spend more time chatting and checking up on people, making sure they're not struggling in any way. The government has led the way in this by passing legislation to foster greater links between the two, and I welcome this initiative; for efficiency, safety and simply a more comprehensive service.
London Is Global, London Is Local
These problems, and their solutions, show more than ever the importance of granting more localised control to London. London has different health needs to the rest of the country- for example, we have fewer smokers but higher rates of mental health issues, and giving our city Manchester-style autonomy over healthcare can help us liaise with individual boroughs and communities in a much more personal and tailored way.
The generations that came before us endured so much that we may enjoy a London full of freedom, culture and history. We as a City, together, owe it to them to work hard, to constantly find ways to effectively care for each generation as it grows older. Almost as a watchword 'care' must run through everything we do as citizens, as our right to live here. We must ensure that we create sustainable policies that both help, but also don't bite the hand that feeds them. We must work hard and keep our economy strong, but care like we know to whom we owe the freedom we have to live, work and play here.