By Paul Stuart, Birmingham Mail
HOUSEBOUND pensioners across Birmingham are being hit by a 40 per cent hike to their meals on wheels service.
Private company ICare is increasing the cost of the meals from £4.10 to £5.71 – and also plans to cut the pay of its 40-strong team of kitchen staff and delivery drivers to the minimum wage.
The shock move means 700 meals on wheels customers will have to fork out an extra £45 per month for the seven-days-a-week service.
The Lancashire-based sub-contractor claims it is being forced into the drastic changes by Birmingham City Council, which is withdrawing its subsidy in September at the end of a current two-year contract.
The scheduled rise in meal costs from £123 to £171 per month has been strongly condemned by Age Concern Birmingham.
Iain Mackintosh, director of development at the charity, said:
“In our experience, proud older people will not make a fuss – they will simply stop having the service and go hungry. This can potentially lead to malnutrition and subsequent health complications.
“In addition, meals on wheels provides valuable human contact that stops older people becoming isolated. This can often be one of the greatest things they look forward to every day.”
The Birmingham Mail was alerted to the price hike by an ICare whistleblower, who asked not to be named. They said:
“It’s a huge hike in costs and it’s probably going to force people who have the meals to cancel them because they won’t be able to afford them.
“These are people with dementia and Alzheimer’s who are the most vulnerable members of society and who need all the help they can get.”
Councillor Steve Bedser, the city’s health and wellbeing boss, urged ICare to ‘rethink’ their pricing strategy. He said: “Birmingham City Council agreed to subsidise the service for two years.
“That subsidy is now coming to an end and I find it extremely disappointing that older people in this city are now facing such a significant increase.
Is £5.71 a fair price for meals on wheels?
“We believe ICare do have room for manoeuvre here and would urge them to have a rethink.
“With the introduction of the Living Wage, this administration has already shown a clear commitment to fair wages across Birmingham and I would urge ICare to show similar consideration for their staff.”
But a spokesman for ICare said the company would have to push through with the changes to cover the shortfall left by the loss of council subsidy.
“What the service user pays is not the full cost of the meal – the rest is subsidised by the council,’’ he said.
“Without that subsidy we are having to put up the cost of meals and bring down wages.”