POOLE’S cuts in its social service budget have been condemned by a pensioners’ group.

“These policies will affect the weak, the vulnerable and older residents,” said Ruth McCullough, secretary of Poole, Bournemouth and Purbeck Pensioners’ Association.

She was commenting on Borough of Poole’s latest aim to withdraw the subsidy from the 200 vulnerable people who receive hot lunches from company Agincare.

This follows the decision to change the eligibility criteria for social care, dropping support for people with only “moderate” needs, plus increased charges for day care centres.

She said: “Already pensioners, on fixed incomes, face the unfairness of fixed penalties – a £60 fine is much more punitive to a pensioner on a basic State pension of £97.65 per week or even an income of £132.60 if eligible for Guarantee Pension Credit – than someone earning minimum wage for a 35-hour week, £207.55.

“Even if a pensioner is eligible for an extra payment of Savings Pension Credit – maximum amount £20.52 – this brings in the grand total of £153.15, still less than the government recognised poverty level of £165.”

She said people in receipt of hot meals were already paying the majority of the cost, £3.24, compared with the council subsidy of £2.45.

“The council appear to take the view that they are handing out this largesse out of the goodness of their hearts. No, pensioners have already contributed through the years via NI, tax and council tax.”

In a letter to councillors, she said: “Councils are meant to be there to work on behalf of residents. We residents pay your salaries and expenses and pay into your pension funds. What exactly are you doing for us the residents, particularly for the pensioners?”

Cllr Elaine Atkinson, cabinet portfolio holder for adult social care, said: “The increasing demand for social care and the pressure on the council’s budget means that difficult decisions need to be made about the future funding of adult social service.”

She added: “The council remains totally committed to supporting people to maintain their independence within the community and will work with service-users to help them access a wider range of meal options.”

However, the ending of Poole’s hot meals contract with Agincare in January has been welcomed by Forerunner Personal Catering of Bournemouth, which supplies fresh meals, delivered hot, on a plate.

“Now that the subsidy is being removed there will be a proper competitive market in Poole for providers like us,” said Declan O’Toole, from the company.