Meals on Wheels for Sale

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Under the cynical guise of “offer[ing] people more choice and control over their meals,” Leicester City Council recently announced that they plan to privatise their meals on wheels provision (to take effect next summer). Sell-off of vital public services are thus mis-sold by our spineless Labour Council as an act of public good and empowerment!

As the Leicester Mercury surmised: “The council is proposing direct payments to older people, so they have money to make their own arrangements for getting food.” How very thoughtful of the Council; and would you believe it they say they will be saving us money as well. How lovely.

To gain a little insight into the what is plainly in store for Leicester one need only look to what has already happened in Birmingham, where in 2010 the City Council made the so-called cost-cutting step of privatising meals on wheels services. In Birmingham private contractor ICare stepped up (or should it be down) to the mark, and now profits handsomely from the inability of the elderly to feed themselves; while making sure they exploit their good-natured workers as efficiently as possible.

In this instance this “essential” outsourcing of essential public services meant that ICare insisted that all their workers deliver the hot meals to their clients using their own cars. Of course, unlike when the service was run by the Council, the costs of running a car are not factored into wages. As one driver reported to the Daily Mirror in October 2012: “The costs of wear and tear on your car mean we are working for about £4 an hour. Some colleagues without cars got sacked.”

Apparently ICare’s service provision were initially subsidised by the Council, but when this subsidy was cut a few years later — as was always planned — ICare wrote “to 30 staff saying wages will be slashed from £8.13 to the minimum wage of £6.19, holiday and sick payments will be cut, and they can be axed with just a week’s notice.” At the same time ICare increased the price of meals from £4.10 to £5.71.

Sadly ICare are ideally placed to cash-in on Leicester City Council’s latest backward move to dismantle welfare provision, as they already have two “Leicester Meals” offices in the region, one in Market Harborough and the other in Mount Sorrel. ICare’s main care of duty (concern?) is however only to maximise the profit they can extract by transporting food to their customers homes… extracting immense profits from the actual making of the meals is left to other corporate scroungers.

For ICare their current food profiteer of choice (corporate scrounger) is Tillery Valley, who boast of “currently serv[ing] 89 NHS trusts and 26 local authorities in 180 locations throughout the UK.” Tillery Valley being a subsidiary of the infamous food giant, the Sodexo Group, a multinational not best-known for their commitment to ethical values, good food, or fair treatment of their staff.

You might recall that it was Sodexo who were implicated in the horsemeat scandal earlier this year; and it is Sodexo who are one of the leading corporations set to profit from the Government’s insane plans to outsource 70% of the Probation Service’s work. For a local report-back on industrial opposition to this sell-off of Probation Service’s see “Public protection, not private profit.

For further criticisms read the 2002 report prepared by Tom Walker for the Hospital Employees’ Union titled “Who is Sodexho?”; and for details of a recent victory of workers fighting back against the profiteering of Sodexo, see “Victory for hospital workers.”

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