A LIFELINE service offering food and company to the elderly is facing the axe – as the Government announces a drive to beat loneliness.
The Food Train project is in jeopardy after £75,000 annual funding was cut.
The service, hailed as a vital support by vulnerable clients, revealed an uncertain future as social security minister Jeanne Freeman launched a consultation on how communities can tackle loneliness and isolation.
Food Train provides regular deliveries of food to 172 local people, with nearly half aged 85 or over, but clients, who are often housebound and live alone, also get social contact.
However, funding has been cut by the North Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership (NAHSCP), a joint NHS and council initiative, and the service will close in March.
Food Train’s CEO Michelle Carruthers said: “Our customers are heartbroken because they feel they are losing people who care about them, and a connection to the outside world. Many fear they are going to be completely alone.”
Launching a consultation on a new strategy to reduce loneliness, Ms Freeman last week said: “Communities themselves are best placed to ensure people who may be at risk of becoming isolated or lonely can access the support they need.” But Ms Carruthers said: “It’s so ironic and sad because we fully support the strategy and message that no one should fear loneliness.
“People are being asked to keep an eye out on neighbours and look out for older people. Well, this is what Food Train does 52 weeks of the year.
“For a service that provides practical support that helps people eat while reducing loneliness to be done away with is absolutely baffling.”
Last week, Food Train, which has branches across Scotland, launched an online petition to have its funding reinstated.
Kenneth Gibson, Cunninghame North MSP, also raised the matter at First Minister’s Questions and described the funding cut as “simply bonkers”.
He said: “This is a short-sighted, penny-wise, pound-foolish decision which must be reversed.”
In response, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon vowed to “examine the situation”.
But Labour MSP Elaine Smith, shadow secretary for poverty and inequality, said: “Lifeline services are under threat due to ongoing cuts and I urge the SNP to think again.”
The NAHSCP confirmed Food Train was among a number of projects with three-year funding from the government which ends in March. They said only “financially sustainable” projects would now get support.
MAY ROBERTS, 72 Springside
I’m housebound, underweight and malnourished so have to eat the right things, and Food Train helps me.
I also have very bad osteoporosis so I don’t have the strength to leave the house now.
I don’t have any children to go out and shop for me so I’d be lost without Food Train. It only costs £4. The volunteers are just lovely. They come in, put the shopping away and have a chat, which is so important.
I’m furious people won’t be able to get this vital service anymore.
ROSINA DONNELLY, 85 Irvine
My husband is 84 and has dementia. We have no family and have outlived all our friends, so we are on our own.
We really depend on our shopping being done every week by Food Train’s wonderful volunteers. We know help is just a phone call away.
They really are our lifeline, so please keep the train on the rails and us at home.