2 February 2010

Meals on wheels sums it all up...

If you’re looking for a policy which sums up the way Southwark Council has been run since 2002, you could hardly do better than the Lib Dem/Tory policy towards the meals on wheels service. This is a service which delivers meals to vulnerable and elderly people in their homes.

In 2008 they decided to increase the cost of a single meal from the council’s meals on wheels service from £2.20 to £3.20. For people already struggling to make ends meet this was a really significant increase. For some it stretched their finances to breaking point. Shocking stuff for anyone who still thought that Liberal Democrats were supposed to be a nice bunch of well-meaning, community minded activists. By anyone’s standard this was mean-hearted stuff, particularly given that the measure was projected to raise just £150,000. A significant amount of money, but not a king’s ransom in terms of local authority spending when we’re talking about an important and popular service. Surely, the savings could have been found elsewhere, possibly by cutting the amount of money the council spends on consultants or by collecting a tiny amount of extra council tax.

But suppose you’re a real scrooge - the kind of person who doesn’t care if elderly and vulnerable people aren’t able to get a warm, nutritious meal - you might think this kind policy is justifiable because it raises £150k of extra money. A pretty strident right-winger might try to justify this kind of policy on the grounds that it tightens the council’s finances. But even in these terms the policy, backed by Peckham Rye Lib Dems and Tories, still doesn’t make sense.

As a result of the price hike, large numbers of people stopped using the meals on wheels service. This year, the reduction in take-up has lead to the council raising £70,000 less than it thought it would. Click here if you’d like to see the figures for yourself (page 6). The Lib Dems and Tories have created a huge amount of upset and disruption for some very vulnerable people, and all for a relatively tiny amount of money.

And this is just one example among many others. A toxic mix of incompetence and some very dodgy political positioning is damaging the lives of everyone in Southwark, but all too often it is the poor, the elderly and the vulnerable who are the first to suffer.

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