Access to food has emerged as a key issue for older people during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, with more than half (52%) of over-65s struggling to access the food they need, according to a new poll from older people’s charity Independent Age.
The nationally representative Opinium poll of 492 adults aged over 65, commissioned by the older people’s charity Independent Age, showed that more than a third (35%) of people had been forced to spend more on food than usual, while 34% said they had increased their reliance on other people to get food for them.
Key barriers for those struggling included low stock levels at the supermarket, experienced by more than half (56%) of respondents, an inability to access supermarket delivery services (38%), and concerns about going to supermarkets due to the risk of infection (33%).
While supermarkets in the UK have prioritised people classed as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ for food deliveries, many people with significant health or mobility issues fall outside this classification.
When questioned about what Government action they wished to see to help resolve issues with food access, half (50%) of respondents said they wanted the Government to instruct supermarkets to ensure priority access is given to those who need it most, and nearly one in four (24%) said they wanted charities to be able to notify the Government if someone needed additional support to access food.
Deborah Alsina, Chief Executive of Independent Age, said the results of the poll were concerning, and reflected the contact the charity had received from older people in recent weeks.
“This period has already been incredibly tough for older people in our society, and having the added stress of not being able to access healthy, affordable food is proving to be a real source of anxiety,” she said.
“To hear that some people who have significant health issues are not able to access delivery services is extremely worrying.
“If you can’t walk easily, or go outside without support, there’s a real possibility you will not be getting the food and essentials you need. Independent Age is calling for the Government to provide support to those who do not fall into the category of the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ group, but are still struggling to access food.
“We want to ensure that everyone who needs a food parcel or priority delivery slot receives them.
“Independent Age also wants to see a central hub set up that contains information about in-store policies for all supermarkets, to ensure that older people have clear information about when and how they can access supermarkets and delivery.
“This new research also show the necessity for charities to be able to refer people to a food provision scheme, and we’re calling for this to be set up and coordinated by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).”
Birmingham resident Maggie, 73, said that because she did not fall into the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ category, she had been unable to secure a delivery slot, despite having mobility issues and no family nearby to assist.
“I could not get through to customer service to organise priority delivery – I still have not been successful, and have now basically given up.
“I am classed as a vulnerable person, but not vulnerable enough for someone to get in touch and say I need priority.
“I would like to get online ordering sorted as I am an independent person, I like to do things for myself, and I feel as though I am not in control of my life because I can’t even order food from the shops.”
Independent Age has advice on how to connect with older friends, family and neighbours – and how older people can stay connected – at its website, www.independentage.org.
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About the survey
This survey of 492 people aged 65 and over was carried out online between 24.04.2020 – 27.04.2020 by Opinium, for Independent Age.
Opinium abides by and employs members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.