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Charity calls on supermarkets to scrap delivery charges for people most at risk from coronavirus

A charity is urging supermarkets to scrap delivery charges for people most at risk of coronavirus this winter. Independent Age, an older people’s charity, has today published a new report warning that many vulnerable older people are facing mounting costs as they struggle to access food over Christmas.

The charity is appealing for action as people who cannot shop in supermarkets due to health risks – and at the advice of the government – are being unfairly penalised through delivery charges and minimum spends on online supermarket shopping.

Independent Age’s research suggests that more than half (57%) of people over the age of 65 do not feel comfortable shopping in a supermarket. As a result, more and more over 65s have felt compelled to do their grocery shopping online. These older shoppers are now being subject to delivery charges and minimum spends, increasing their weekly costs dramatically.

In April, supermarkets worked with the government to introduce priority slots for people of all ages at more risk to the virus, many of these slots had no delivery charges. Since August, with the partial easing of restrictions, some supermarkets have been reintroducing delivery charges for all priority slots. Independent Age has also heard from older people who are concerned that social distancing and other safety measures are not being properly enforced in supermarkets. Just as we approach Christmas, with demand for delivery slots growing and supermarkets increasingly crowded, many older people could end up paying more to access food safely.

In response to the growing risk to older people over the winter, Independent Age is calling on supermarkets to:

  • Lower minimum spends and reduce or remove delivery costs for priority shopping slots
  • Ensure social distancing and mask-wearing measures are being adhered to in stores
  • Review reintroduction of measures such as priority hours

Shoppers of all ages would support supermarkets in this move. Recent Independent Age / YouGov polling* shows that three-quarters of people (77%) agree that those who are unable to shop in supermarkets due to their age or underlying health conditions should not have to pay online delivery charges. There’s even more support for the removal of minimum spends on grocery deliveries. 81% of people agree that the minimum spends on online orders should be scrapped for those who are unable to shop in supermarkets due to health risk.

Independent Age Chief Executive Deborah Alsina said:

“Christmas will be different for us all this year, but it is likely to be incredibly hard for older people and those more vulnerable to the virus. Many will not only be apart from their loved ones but may also face a Christmas when buying groceries forces a terrible choice. This winter, older people will either have to risk their health in crowded supermarkets or pay unexpected additional costs for home delivery. The supermarkets really stepped up during the first lockdown, we’re calling on them again now to help those at risk through this winter.”

The impact on older people’s physical and mental health

As well as having faced greater difficulty accessing food, people in later life have also been affected by coronavirus restrictions in other ways, according to the figures from Independent Age. The pandemic has had a damaging effect on older people’s mental health, with almost half (42%) reporting that their mental health had got worse or much worse since the start of the pandemic, yet access to mental health support has declined.

Older people are also more likely to use health services to manage their physical and mental health but coronavirus restrictions have drastically reduced their ability to access care and support. The report found that many were too scared to book a doctor’s appointment and of those who did feel comfortable making one, 1 in 4 (26%) reported that they had been unable to book a GP or nurse appointment during the pandemic. Waiting times for healthcare are continuing to increase, and delays to treatment can lead to a higher risk of worse health outcomes, because of deteriorating health or the development of new conditions, and can contribute to poor mental health and wellbeing. 

Deborah added:

“People in later life have told us that they are feeling increasingly anxious and depressed, yet we know that older people often have greater difficulty accessing mental health services. This is having a knock-on impact on their wellbeing and ability to live independently, and it’s adding to the multitude of difficulties facing older people, who have been deeply affected by the pandemic.”

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