Disabled People Forced to Risk Health Just to Buy Food

New research by disability equality charity Scope has uncovered the stark reality of supermarket shopping for many disabled people. The charity submits its findings today to a Government inquiry into food supply during the Coronavirus pandemic.

From risking their health because they can’t get delivery slots, to enduring the humiliating experience of being judged or challenged by other shoppers and staff, buying food and essentials continues to be a source of enormous worry for many disabled people, research by Scope suggests.

Many disabled shoppers could be facing a ‘triple whammy’ of a higher infection risk, the strain of inaccessible measures like having to stand in long queues, as well as other people’s negative attitudes.

A survey of 585 disabled adults carried out over 10 days by Savanta ComRes on behalf of Scope found that of those who have been to a supermarket since the outbreak:

•   A quarter (26%) said they have faced negative attitudes from other shoppers
•   Over one in three (36%) disabled shoppers reported that long queues were aggravating their conditions or impairments
•   A quarter (26%) feel “scared” about catching coronavirus while shopping because of their condition or impairment
•   One in six (16%) reported issued accessing supermarkets during special opening hours
•   One in seven (13%) reported facing negative attitudes from supermarket staff
•   One in 10 reported (9%) issues bringing carers into shops with them
•   Half (46%) said they had issues getting essential items

In addition, two in five (38%) of all who had needed or tried to book delivery slots in past three weeks weren’t able to.

The new findings show that getting hold of food and essentials is still creating major issues for many of the UK’s 14 million disabled people. 

Despite efforts from the government and supermarkets to tackle this issue, too many disabled people are still falling through the gaps and being forgotten about. 

Access to food and essentials remains the number one Covid-19 related concern among callers to Scope’s helpline.[2]

The Research Institute for Disabled Consumers has also found that 89 per cent of disabled people are concerned about the availability of food.[3]

CASE STUDY: Charles Bloch, 26, from Coventry, has asthma, and is registered blind.

“I should ideally be isolating on my own for 12 weeks because of having bad asthma, but living on my own and having a lively guide dog, it’s not an easy thing to do. And with no shopping delivery slots available, I’ve had no choice but to go to the local shop.

“I applied online for vulnerable status and was given it. I got an email from one supermarket to get priority access for delivery, but now the website doesn’t load.

“I’m having to go to the local shops every two to three days. Shops are still busy, and people aren’t moving out of the way for me and my guide dog.

“I’m worried about running out of food. I should be self-isolating. I have asthma which means I’m vulnerable, and right now I’m having to risk my life to get food.”


Over the past few weeks, huge numbers of disabled people have contacted Scope directly to share their experiences. Many have told us that despite being in a vulnerable situation as a result of lockdown, they’ve had no choice but to risk their health by going out to supermarkets in person.[4] 

Disabled people have also told Scope about other issues, such as struggling to get particular foods they need because of their conditions, such as gluten-free alternatives and milk substitutes.

Many told Scope they were having to completely depend on family members or neighbours visiting supermarkets for them. Those who are most isolated are becoming increasingly worried about being unable to access any food at all. 

Disabled people are also anxious about lack of support and advice for carers or family members of disabled people in the “extremely vulnerable” category. Many are still having to visit supermarkets but are concerned about bringing the virus back into their homes afterwards.

What needs to change
Scope is urging shoppers to be supportive, understanding and tolerant of each other and to be mindful of invisible impairments. 

The disability charity wants the government to work with supermarkets to make sure all disabled people can access supermarkets and food. Scope’s recommendations include:

• Ability to skip long queues
• Consistent access to Click and Collect
• Expanded provision of telephone ordering and payment
• Continued training/support to ensure staff are aware of invisible impairments

Scope is also calling on the government to make sure disabled people who need them can get delivery slots. 

The charity is recommending that the government works with charities who can refer individuals in need of additional support. 

Scope is also calling for a system which will allow people to self-identify if they are in a vulnerable situation regarding access to food. 

James Taylor, Scope’s Executive Director of strategy, impact and social change, said:

“Shopping is already a difficult task for many disabled people, and now many are telling us they feel judged and compelled to explain their condition just to be able to shop safely. 

“It’s crucial that new rules to protect people, such as asking people to queue outside supermarkets, don’t make it harder or impossible for disabled people to shop. 

“Disabled people also have the right to reasonable adjustments, and these rights shouldn’t be thrown aside or forgotten about.

“The government and supermarkets need to listen to disabled people and develop a consistent and co-ordinated approach and urgently act to expand its ‘vulnerable’ list, to make sure all disabled people can safely get the food and essentials they need.”

To find out what we are doing to support you, and keep you safe during the coronavirus outbreak visit: www.scope.org.uk/advice-and-support/coronavirus/

Free disability helpline: Open Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm. Saturday to Sunday 10am to 6pm

Phone: 0808 800 3333 / Email: [email protected]

Scope urgently needs your help. During this difficult time, disabled people are finding themselves isolated more than ever. We need your help to continue providing vital support for disabled people and their families right now. Please donate today. £9 could pay for a call to our helpline, giving people vital support and information.

Donate at: www.scope.org.uk/donate/?frequency=card&amount=9

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