Dear Supermarket CEOs,
We know you are doing your best to keep the public safe during this really difficult time. Staff are working flat out to make sure that NHS workers and many people who are clinically extremely vulnerable to coronavirus get the food they need. However, we’re really worried that lots of people who are vulnerable in different ways, including: disabled children and adults, and their families, people in later life and unpaid carers, are being forgotten in your current plans. Hundreds of thousands of people are struggling to get the food they need. We know that many of you are meeting with some charities to discuss this more. We think this is really important.
The current situation has put people in an impossible position – many disabled people can’t get online delivery slots because they’re not clinically extremely vulnerable, but they also can’t go to supermarkets because of barriers they face in-store. For some, this is because they have a physical or sensory impairment that makes shopping in person impossible. For others, like autistic people, or those with dementia, a learning disability or problems with their movement, it’s the fact that they can’t go into the shops with their family members or unpaid carers, or at quieter times. The long queues, new rules and some staff and customers’ poor understanding mean that getting food is a minefield of stress and anxiety. This is a particular challenge for those of us with mental health problems who already face difficulties in accessing supermarkets under usual circumstances. This situation is leaving some to go hungry, and we think that’s unacceptable.
It looks like social distancing will be with us for a long time and our whole society needs to adapt to this new reality. We would like you to work with disabled people of all ages, carers and charities to set up systems in your stores that support your disabled and older customers during this time.
Like every business in the UK, supermarkets have a legal duty to make “reasonable adjustments” for disabled and older people including during the coronavirus outbreak. We think this should include:
Fairer rules on numbers of shoppers and opening times. Disabled people and older people need to be allowed in stores with their carers or relatives to support them with their shopping. Similarly, parents and carers cannot always leave their disabled relative at home to go shopping. Rules saying only one person from a household can visit at a time don’t work. In the same vein, people should have access to priority shopping hours because of the many difficulties they’re experiencing when going to the supermarket.
Consistent rules across supermarkets. It’s confusing that the social distancing rules are different in different supermarkets. This makes it difficult to prepare for visits or know what to expect. And it puts people at risk of harassment if they accidentally break the rules they don’t understand, because of a cognitive or social disability. Supermarkets should work together and consult with disabled people to set up a consistent approach.
Better staff understanding of disabled people’s and carers’ needs. It’s important to make sure your staff understand disability, particularly hidden impairments, and what support disabled people might need or how staff can respond to their needs. When people are stopped or judged, it makes going to the shops even more nerve-wracking. This will be important for staff allocating delivery slots too, who need to appreciate that barriers to going shopping are not always physical.
We look forward to working with you to make the suggestions we’ve set out above happen to make sure disabled people across the country can shop for their food at your stores and stay healthy and safe during the coronavirus outbreak.
National Autistic Society
Disability Rights UK
National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome-UK
Motor Neurone Disease Association
The Neurological Alliance
National Aids Trust
The Brain Charity
Nerve Tumours UK
Tuberous Sclerosis Association
ICan charity, Bob Reitemeier
Ambitious About Autism
The Fragile X Society
ADHD Foundation Neurodiversity Charity
Downs Syndrome Research Foundation UK
Voluntary Organisation Disability Group