Food Train says such a service would provide consistency across the country
Food Train is calling for the creation of a government-funded national shopping service to end the postcode lottery of support for older people across Scotland.
The charity, which works to improve food security and tackle malnutrition and social isolation among over-65s by helping them to eat well and live well in their own homes, has made a series of manifesto asks ahead of May’s Scottish Parliament elections.
It has taken the step after volunteers and staff responded to unprecedented demand for shopping services during 2020, fuelled by the impact of the coronavirus crisis. At its peak, that was 70% higher than the previous year.
Food Train chief executive Michelle Carruthers said: “Shopping and meals support for older people has been decimated over the last 20 years. The ‘social’ part of social care has been lost, giving rise to an unjust postcode lottery of support across Scotland for older people to access food.
“This must end. We need to not just acknowledge the reasons behind food security, but address them.”
She has written to each of Scotland’s major political parties asking for practical action to deal with inequalities faced by older people should they form the next administration at Holyrood. They are to:
· Ensure local food access, supported by national infrastructure - a universal shopping service for older people with secure investment which would allow opportunities for older people to eat, shop or cook with others.
· Commit into policy a mandatory requirement for community screening to detect early signs of malnutrition in older people living at home for all statutory agencies with a role in supporting older people, with accredited and approved training on malnutrition and unintentional weight loss embedded into basic requirements for all health and social care professionals.
· Pledge to ensure all policy practice and research needs take account of the fact that food poverty and food insecurity are not the same for vulnerable older people as it is for other age groups.
· Commit to ensuring all older Scots have the right to food that supports their health and wellbeing.
While rolling out the Food Train model from the nine regions in which it operates would be one option for such a national shopping and support operation, the charity says commitment to supportive food access - rather than the provider - is the immediate priority.
And, although the impact of Covid-19 increased the numbers it supports, the charity stresses that the pandemic did not create the problem of older people struggling with shopping, but simply threw them - and the need for them to be solved - into sharper focus.
The number of shopping deliveries Food Train makes each week is currently 50% higher than at this point in 2020, just weeks before the first lockdown and shielding started. The charities Meal Makers service is also seeing 45% more meals being provided to older people each month than this time last year.
Food Train estimates that up to 30% of older people living in Scotland are at risk of malnutrition.
Carruthers said: “Successive governments continue to ignore the medical evidence supporting how vital food and nutrition is to older people’s wellbeing. We have heard some really positive noises about a desire to address this, but our older people need this reflected in policy - and with a funding commitment.
“Malnutrition, and the issues associated with food insecurity among older people puts an unnecessary strain on the NHS and social care services through the increases in frailty and falls it causes, along with mental health issues created by this and social isolation.
“People from regions where we don’t have a local branch, tell us of the need they have for region wide supported food access, such as a Food Train-style service. Sustained high numbers in our current branch areas demonstrate that.”
Food Train currently has about 1,500 volunteers supporting its members and staff across Dumfries & Galloway, West Lothian, Stirling, Dundee, Glasgow, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, Clackmannanshire and the Scottish Borders.