Yesterday I wrote a blog explaining why I support the campaign to elect John Burgess as General Secretary of UNISON. In it I detailed how I started to write this blog. Prior to 2007 I had no interest in local government politics. This changed in 2007 when Barnet Council outsourced the meals on wheels contract to Sodexho. At the time my mother was reliant on this service for her lunch. Just in case you didn't read the blog, at the time my mother was 82. She had suffered a major stroke in 2000 and had problems with speech and mobility. She was housebound but fiercly independent and was determined to live at home. In 2006 she'd had a fall and broken her hip. This nearly killed her as did the C-Diff infection she caught in Finchley Memorial hospital whilst recovering. She suffered from spinal degeneration and Osteoperosis and had several emergency operation to repair spinal fractures. The pain from this was mitigated by opiates and often even the action of getting out of bed was agony.
Despite this she persevered. She had a helper who came in the morning to help her dress and make her breakfast. In the evening, my wife would cook her dinner and my kids would deliver it. My mother had her stomach removed following a bout of cancer in 1970. She needed to eat small meals regularly. Her lunch was supplied by the Barnet Council meals on wheels service, which she paid for.
When Sodexho took over, the quality plummeted and initially the meals were delivered extremely late (sometimes not until 5pm). My mother needed a regular routine and the changes caused her immense stress. If her meal wasn't delivered she'd have a panic attack and then start phoning around the family. We'd get calls with her crying saying "It's not here, its not here. If you have ever had to see your elderly, invalid mother reduced to a gibbering wreck, you would realise just how awful this was.
Eventually Barnet Council sorted out the service. Unfortunately the whole incident sent my mother into a spiral of depression. She died of a massive stroke in August 2008. I ascribe this partially to the stress of what happened to the meals on wheels contract. This was the moment that she realised she was not independent and the council could pull the rug on her at any time.
People who rely on Meals on Wheels for lunch are not people who have made a lifestyle choice to lie in bed and be waited on hand and foot by the council. They are people like my mother, who the ravages of age have robbed of the ability to make themselves meals. My mum could make a cup of tea or a sandwich. She lacked the physical strength to open a tin of beans or to peel a potato. She was extremely careful about her diet and looked after herself. If she was to get a hot meal for lunch, the only practical way to get it was the council service.
People who receive meals on wheels by definition live at home. This is far cheaper for the public purse than living in care. People like my mother paid for the service. These people are not "spongers", they are fiercly independent people who don't want to be a burden. A caring, decent society would support them. But do we live in a caring, decent society?
As a result of my blog yesterday, I was sent a copy of the letter below from Dawn Wakeling, Adults and Health commissioning director (who is doubtless on a six figure salary). This email, slyly sent in august when many people are on holiday and distracted from care duties for relatives, states that Barnet Council is planning to cease the meals on wheels service. Please read this and see what your council is planning.
This is appalling. It undermines the independence of the elderly and will cause untold stress. Many of the recipients are in a routine that has been going on for years. Many will not be physically capable of responding by 18th September. When my mother got the letter saying Sodexho were taking over in 2007, she went into a state of panic. I can only shudder at the thought of what would have happened if she'd recieved this letter. Ultimately this cut will cost the council far more than it saves. It will force many people who live independently into full time care and this costs tens of thosuands of pounds.
It is clear that the regime running Barnet have no sense of care for the elderly or the vulnerable. They don't care that this will devastate hundreds of elderly people. They don't care that these people have spent the whole of their lives working, paying taxes and building our Borough. In return this council simply dumps on them. I am sure the council isn't cutting its budget for sandwiches and biscuits for able bodied councillors at council meetings. It is only the vulnerable that get a kicking in Barnet.
I have a word of advice for our Barnet Councillors. I had given up on blogging about the council. This letter has shown me that I was wrong to stop. In fact I will now redouble my efforts to expose them and show just how disgusting they are. To attack the elderly and the housebound is inhuman. I will use every last breath to ensure that the meeting in Novemeber is left in no doubt as to how revolting this proposal is. If the council still proceed, then I will ensure that everyone in Barnet understands just what sort of people they are and how little they care. It is clear to me that Dawn Wakeling is either a completely heartless and horrible person, or she hasn't a clue about the people she gets paid a kings ransome to look after. Either way she is a disgrace.
By the way, today is my birthday. Don't bother wishing me a happy birthday, because this letter has ensured that I have never had a worse one. I am just pleased that my mother has gone on to better things. If she'd received this, today would have been a truly harrowing day.