Fears over meals on wheels services
Meals on wheels are being provided to 63% fewer vulnerable and elderly people in England than five years ago, according to research by Labour.
Records show that 296,000 people were receiving food from, or commissioned by, councils in the final year of the Labour government - but that has fallen to under 109,000 this year, the party's analysis shows.
The Local Government Association (LGA) said a shortage in funding meant people were not being given the care they deserved and warned that adult social care funding was in "crisis".
Liz Kendall, shadow minister for care and older people, said: "Having a decent meal and contact with someone at least once a day is a lifeline for many elderly people.
"Removing this support isn't good for them and it's a false economy too, if their health suffers and they struggle to cope, and they end up having to go into hospital or a care home.
"We must end this false divide between social care services and the NHS because both are essential to keeping elderly people well and living independently in their own homes."
Labour used Freedom of Information laws to ask English councils with responsibility for meals on wheels to detail use of the service and 84% responded.
It used the results to extrapolate the level nationally and estimated that it equates to around 220,000 fewer people receiving meals on wheels services.
The largest annual drop was recorded from 2013/14 to the current financial year when the number of people receiving the service from local authorities fell by 49% - from 214,306 to 108,856 - according to Labour.
Although the current financial year is yet to end, the party said the figures are based on the amount of people who are currently receiving meals on wheels and, while the numbers may fluctuate, it expects them to remain fairly steady.
Cllr Izzi Seccombe, who chairs the LGA's community well being board, said: "Following the local government finance settlement, councils will have to find £2.6 billion savings next year.
"At the same time, a rapidly growing elderly population is driving up the cost of adult social care by hundreds of millions of pounds each year.
"The LGA has long been warning the services that elderly and vulnerable people rely on, including meals on wheels and lunch clubs, are coming under increasing threat.
"Councils are trying to protect the elderly from the impact of cuts, often at the expense of other services. But there is simply not enough money in the system to provide the level and quality of care that people deserve.
"Adult social care funding is in crisis. It will be vital that the next spending review puts it on a sustainable financial footing. If social care continues to be inadequately funded, some services will be tipped into failure and vulnerable people will be at risk of losing essential care."
Labour claimed the cost of a single meal has risen by 22% under the Coalition.
Local Government Minister Kris Hopkins said: "Councils should be providing meals on wheels to those who need it as they are responsible for protecting frontline services.
"They should also be keeping council tax down. There is far more scope for savings across the public sector by merging back offices, more joint working, cutting fraud, and embracing transparency to drive out waste and inefficiency."