Vulnerable people still struggling to access food supplies, says Which?

Urgent action is still needed to make it easier for vulnerable people to access supermarket delivery slots and other sources of supplies, according to Which?

The consumer group argued the current system is not working for those who need it the most, leaving vulnerable people at risk of going hungry.

It said it is continuing to hear from people who are struggling to book supermarket delivery slots, unable to find the help they need locally, and in some cases find themselves forced to risk their health to get supplies.

Some vulnerable customers have told Which? that they are staying up into the early hours of the morning in an attempt to book supermarket delivery slots, while others are relying on the kindness of neighbours.

Which? has gathered over 1,000 reports of people who have struggled to access food and supplies amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Sue Davies, head of consumer protection and food policy at Which?, said: “Based on the huge number of reports we’re seeing from vulnerable people struggling to get access to basic food and supplies, it’s clear that the current system is not working for those who need it the most.”

One vulnerable couple, who are relying on a neighbour, described supermarket delivery slots to Which? as “gold dust”.

And a disabled and housebound woman told Which? she had been “trapped with no deliveries for three of the past four weeks”.

Which? argued that, while many supermarkets have gone to great lengths to increase their capacity, without a more co-ordinated effort from governments across the UK and better access to other forms of provision in local areas, deliveries will continue to fall short of what is needed.

It wants to see more joined-up activity involving governments at national and local levels, the food industry and local charities so that all options for providing food deliveries, from supermarkets to local shops and volunteers, are used fully.

There should also be a simpler process for people at highest risk to register for help to get the type of food supplies they need, Which? said, alongside clearer communication so people know how to access support.

The consumer group also wants to see more consistent support across the UK, so that all vulnerable consumers, regardless of where they live, can be confident they will get the help they need.

Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Community Wellbeing Board at the Local Government Association (LGA), said: “Councils are working hard to protect those most vulnerable to this virus and to support the Government scheme to deliver food and supplies to those in the shielded group.

“We are working with the Government to try and understand how the support system for the shielded group can work best and be improved upon, including the need for better data about shielding the clinically vulnerable.

“This will help ensure those who need assistance get the help they need.

“Councils are already showing leadership and establishing local arrangements to support vulnerable residents outside this group, who are struggling to access food and support due to their isolation or because of hardship.”

James Taylor, executive director of strategy, impact and social change at disability equality charity Scope, said: “These findings echo exactly what Scope has been hearing from disabled people up and down the country.

“Despite efforts to address this problem, too many disabled people are falling through the gaps.

“Many have been forced to risk their health to visit supermarkets because they can’t get the deliveries they need.

“We’re urging disabled people who are having trouble getting food and essentials to get in touch with Scope for advice and support.”

Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said: “We encourage anyone who is shielding, self-isolating or otherwise unable to leave their home to contact their local convenience store.

“Thousands of convenience stores have stepped up to ensure that vulnerable people get the essentials that they need, providing over 600,000 home deliveries a week, and enabling volunteers to collect and pay for goods on behalf of others.”

A Government spokeswoman said: “We are determined to ensure the most vulnerable are supported during this pandemic.

“Working closely with councils, the NHS and the food industry, we have delivered over 900,000 parcels of food to clinically extremely vulnerable people through the shielding programme.

“For those who do not fall into the shielded group, there is other support available. Vulnerable people can refer themselves to the NHS Volunteer Responders programme by calling 0808 196 3646. Local councils may also be able to offer emergency support.”