SOME of Bexley's most vulnerable people may be left to order and cook their own frozen meals as a result of changes in the borough's meals on wheels service.

All 420 elderly or disabled people who receive the service have been told Bexley Council's cabinet will make the final decision on the changes at a meeting on February 5.

The proposal has been described as "very cruel and ill thought out" by trade union Unite.

Currently the meals are all cooked at a central kitchen and then delivered hot to people's homes.

Around 40 workers are employed by Bexley to provide the service and they would have to be redeployed, if possible, to other jobs.

Bexley says it has already identified around a quarter of the meals on wheels clients will still need help and support to cook their own meals.

It is proposing frozen meals will be delivered direct to clients' homes in future.

People receiving the meals could order them direct from a list of approved providers which will be given to them by the council.

Alternatively, they can find their own supplier and choose their own meals for delivery.

Clients will pay the supplier direct for the meals.

Ian Wall's mother, Joan, from Bexley, who is 83 and blind, receives the meals on wheels service.

Local government officer Mr Wall, 46, says he feels the decision is being made purely on cost.

He said: "It defeats the whole principle of meals on wheels, providing a hot meal for people who are not able to cook it for themselves.

"It is a retrograde step and very detrimental to the users of the service."

He said it is a pity Bexley has not chosen to pilot its proposal before deciding to change the whole service.

Mr Wall says he fears there could be serious accidents or food poisoning as a result of asking vulnerable people to cook their own meals.

Paul Fawcett, a regional officer for Unite, whose members provide the current service, says all the workers were women who worked part-time.

Mr Fawcett says he understands any help needed to cook the frozen meals would be provided by home care workers in future.

He said: "The staff are more worried about the people who receive the meals than about their own jobs. They provide a social service.

"They don't just deliver the meals, they keep an eye on their clients and for some people it is the only face they see in the day."

Mr Fawcett claims Bexley's Tory council is "paranoid about cutting costs, regardless".

He added: "It is not very nice to watch."

Mr Fawcett says Bexley has hived off so many of its services to outside companies and trusts it is very unlikely the meals on wheels staff could be found alternative jobs within the council.

The council says it has been reviewing its service, which costs £275,000 a year to run, for the past 12 months.

Last year it invited companies to tender to provide a more efficient way of delivering the meals.

However, the council was unhappy with all the bids and did not take them any further.

Cabinet member for social care Councillor Sharon Massey said: "The council faces a number of difficult decisions as a result of the worst grant settlement from the Government for many years, which makes it more important than ever we get the best possible value for money.

"Demand for meals services is falling across the country and we are responding to customer needs in providing more choice, as well as possibly reducing costs."