Rhondda Cynon Taf Council: Fears meals on wheels could be axed amid council cuts

Report by National Correspondent Rob Osborne for ITV Wales' Sharp End programme

At 81 years old, Ann Davey cannot bend to get down to her oven and cannot stand for very long anymore.

Her limited mobility means she relies on the local meals on wheels service in Tonypandy, Rhondda Cynon Taf, to bring her freshly-cooked meals every day.

She said: "They come to the door between 12 and 1pm, they shout my name and they come in and put the meal in the cupboard by the door.

"They’d take it all the way in to the kitchen for me if I wanted to."

She told ITV Wales it has been a lifeline and she looks forward to the variety of the meals that she would not have the chance to enjoy otherwise.

But money-saving proposals by Rhondda Cynon Taf Council could see the fresh meals people like Ann get substituted for frozen meals – and at a higher cost.

"They’re not going to have the same nutritional value from a microwave meal every day," Jane told ITV Wales. Credit: ITV Wales

"At the moment they pay £4.05 for a fresh meal which is good value," said Ann Davey's daughter, Jane Schindler.

"But they're proposing to put it up to £4.55 and provide a microwave meal."

She believes people will simply swap to cheaper frozen supermarket meals instead of paying more.

With potentially fewer service users, Jane fears the council could move to axe the service entirely – something she thinks could impact elderly people's independence, especially when returning from hospital.

She said: "If this service goes, there’s nothing for elderly people when they come out of hospital then, when they need that help to transition from hospital back to home."

"There’s a lot of elderly who haven’t got anyone at all, they don’t have families to sort things out for them, they rely on that service."

It comes as people across Wales are facing rising council tax but continued cuts to public services.

Some local authorities across Wales are trying to find ways to save money and plug funding gaps through public consultations.

But council leaders warn they are struggling to maintain all of the services they are currently running.

"I can understand the need to balance the budget but there are some services that the community needs. And this is a service that the communities needs," said Jane.

She continued: "We're all getting older, we’re an aging population. My mother is me in 20 years time. I’ll be the same, I won’t be able to prepare food.

"If there’s nothing there, what am I going to do?

"It’s the same for all of us, some of these councillors need to think that it could happen to them years down the line."

Rhondda Cynon Taf Council provides around 650 services but council leader Cllr Andrew Morgan said that it is getting more difficult to ensure their viability.

Cllr Morgan says they will be forced to axe services and cut jobs if they don't plug their funding gap. Credit: ITV Wales

Cllr Morgan said the funding gap is "on a scale we’ve not seen before".

"Once you strip out the statutory services, all those things which are in effect niceties," Cllr Morgan said.

"They are things that the community is passionately keen about, unfortunately, those services are the ones that get hit.

"There’s only a certain number you can slim a service down or make it more efficient and then you get to the point where ‘is that service viable and do you actually stop that service?'"

He continued: "I really do fear that over the next few years the savings councils have made to get us to this point will not be enough going forward and we could in the future get to a position where the council’s really have to prioritise funding for those absolute essential services with very few others."

In response, the Welsh Government said it gave councils the "best possible" settlement it could.

"We've done the best possible job for local government under the circumstances," according to Finance Minister Rebecca Evans MS. Credit: ITV Wales

Rebecca Evans MS told ITV Wales that difficult decisions in local government are inevitable.

She said: "Our budget here in Wales across this three year spending review period is worth three billion pounds less than understood originally, and that's because of the impact of inflation."

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