Elderly To Face Rise In Charges

Thousands of Norfolk pensioners relying on meals on wheels face an inflation-busting price hike of nearly 30 per cent. Norfolk County Council is proposing to increase the cost of a two-course meal by 65p from £2.35 to £3 in a bid to generate £268,000 a year for the cash-strapped service.

Longer term, it also wants to cut an annual £600,000 subsidy by increasing the current number of diners from 2,267 to include more of the county’s 166,000 grey population. But opposition councillors said the move was “ridiculous” and warned the most vulnerable in the community would be hit hardest.

The move comes as Tory leader David Cameron yesterday launched a campaign to highlight the rising cost of living for millions of British households.

The authority is also looking to up the cost of council run transport to take older people and those with learning difficulties to day centres from £1.05 to £1.10 a trip.

Other costs such as those for Home Support, housing with care and supported living and residential care will increase by 2pc in line with inflation. That means that a pensioner who has a daily meal and uses community transport will see costs rise by £3.75 from £22.25 to £26 a week.

The council said the increased charges would still be less than those in neighbouring authorities including Suffolk and Essex.

Labour spokeswoman Maran McKay condemned the proposals which will be discussed by the adult social services review panel next Monday. “This is ridiculous,” she said. “It’s not about making it comparable with other local authorities, it’s because they have got a budget deficit. We should not be looking to substantially increases charges on a frontline service such as meals on wheels. We should be thinking about how best we can support older people in Norfolk.”

A report to the same meeting shows the authority currently has just over £13m of debt from adult social service users yet to pay their bills. And yesterday the ruling cabinet agreed to write off a further £44,273.72 of the department’s debt caused by unpaid fees and charges on top of £92,892.41 waived in December.

Rex Humphrey, chief executive of Age Concern Norfolk, welcomed plans to expand the meals on wheels service but feared the raised charges could have a negative effect. “For many people £3.75 is a lot of money,” he said. “It’s another example where charges are increasing more than the level of income for individuals. It will be difficult for some people to find the money within an already tight weekly budget, there’s no doubt about it.

A spokesperson for Help the Aged, said: “Services that support older people’s independence are at breaking point in many regions. Meals on wheels, personal care and help with shopping enable older people to live independent lives. As the cost of living continues to rise, older people are among those hardest hit.

“And with only minimal increases to the state pension, pensioners continue to suffer most. Raising the cost of a much relied on services, such as Meals on Wheels, or transportation means lowering the quality of life for many pensioners who are already living below the poverty line in the UK today.”

Chris Mowle, cabinet member for adult social services blamed lack of government funding for price hikes, but insisted that a new joint venture with the Department of Work and pensions to help people identify the benefits they are entitled to would prevent the most vulnerable slipping through the net. “If we hadn’t had such a bad settlement we wouldn’t have to be looking quite so hard at these fringe areas,” he said.

“For a long time Norfolk has been able to offer heavily subsidised community meals and transport at a very competitive rate. Under these new proposals good quality two-course meals will still be available at a very competitive £3, enabling the service to be expanded and assisting more older people to remain independent in their own homes for longer.”