Charities call for urgent action for vulnerable customers struggling to access food

A group of leading charities has called on the Scottish Government and supermarkets to take urgent action to ensure that vulnerable customers are given more support to access essential food supplies.

Charities call for urgent action for vulnerable customers struggling to access food

Action on Hearing Loss Scotland, Age Scotland, Carers Scotland, Guide Dogs Scotland, RNIB Scotland, Royal Blind and Scottish War Blinded, and Which? have come together to highlight the ongoing challenges faced by people with disabilities, are older and those who are more vulnerable during this crisis.

In a letter to the First Minister, the group call on the Scottish Government and supermarket retailers to address the following issues:

  • Supermarkets to work with the Scottish Government to ensure all vulnerable consumers, of any age, and their carers receive the support they need to access food. This should be consistent across the industry and clearly communicated to all customers, not just relying on online communications and with new customers not excluded from registering.
  • Supermarkets to build on the steps they have already taken and adapt services to better meet the needs of older and disabled people.
    The Scottish Government to involve our organisations in work it is undertaking to identify those in need, to prioritise them for home deliveries or support with getting food supplies, keeping them healthy and protecting the NHS from avoidable admissions.
  • Improved coordination between the Scottish Government and local authorities, the food industry and local charities so that all options for providing food deliveries – from supermarkets to local shops and volunteers – are fully exploited.
  • The charities acknowledged the efforts that supermarket have made since the beginning of the crisis, including an hour set aside for older customers, those with disabilities and their carers, and priority online delivery slots.

Research by the charities has found that two-and-a-half months into the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of thousands of customers across Scotland are still reliant on food parcels as they cannot access supermarkets in person or online.

A recent Age Scotland survey of older people found 32% of respondents struggled to get food from a supermarket and 39% faced difficulties getting an online delivery.

One in five respondents to an RNIB survey said they have had to ration food during the current lockdown period.

A survey by Carers UK & Carers Scotland found 64% of carers had some or significant problems accessing basic necessities.

As lockdown eases and fewer people are self-isolating, the charities have raised concerns that the situation could become more acute for those who are most at risk from coronavirus and their carers, making it even more challenging for them to access essential supplies.

Kirin Saeed from Edinburgh, who is registered blind, said: “I’ve found myself limiting the food I eat as I’m never that sure when my next food delivery will be. I have a paid carer who lives some distance away and I’m conscious I don’t want to burden her with too much shopping. Also, as I’m in the black and minority ethnic group and possibly more vulnerable to the coronavirus virus, I need to limit contact with others.

“If I went to a shop myself social distancing would be a massive problem. Touching things to ascertain what they are would, too. Blind people live in a world where touching things is important - but how long does the virus stay on things we touch?

“I don’t think this situation is going to change anytime soon. Everyone’s scrambling through the here and now - but what about the here and after? There will still be social distancing. The hope I have is that shops and supermarkets agree a standardised policy for customers with sight loss, so that we know how to safely get around shops and so do staff. That would be the best way forward for everybody.”

Brian Sloan, chief executive of Age Scotland, added: “It is extremely concerning that two and a half months since the start of the COVID pandemic there are still tens of thousands of older and vulnerable people who are surviving on food parcels.

“There are half a million over 60s in Scotland who don’t use the internet. They can’t book online delivery slots. Our recent survey of older people’s experience of the COVID pandemic showed that 32% of respondents had difficulties getting food from a supermarket.

“While we recognise the work done by the supermarkets at the start of this crisis to help customers, the system is still far from perfect. It is vital that improvements are made. Too many older people are still struggling but we have faith that the Scottish Government and the retailers can fix this.”

Caroline Normand, Which? director of advocacy, commented: “Almost three months into the lockdown we have continued to hear from many high-risk or vulnerable Scots who have faced huge difficulty accessing the basic food and provisions they need because they have been shielding or self-isolating.

“Without easily accessible and clearer information for these people, and stronger coordination between the UK and Scottish governments, there is a risk that many will go hungry during this pandemic.”

  • Read all of our articles relating to COVID-19 here.
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