My Lords, there are 1 million people on the Government’s clinically vulnerable list but nearly 14 million people living with disabilities. That is 21% of the UK population. They fall outside high-risk categories, yet need, and are entitled to, support in accessing the food that they require.
The current legal action of more than 300 people against major supermarket chains suggests that they are not receiving this, and that these problems are systemic, not a series of one-offs. Examples cited include difficulties in accessing delivery slots; visually impaired shoppers being refused support from sighted guides and wheelchair users being denied help; long queues excluding people with mobility issues or chronic pain conditions; and the impact of purchasing limits on people with autism, who often experience rigidity around foods. Doing without our usual brands might not be a problem for many of us, but for people with autism it can make the difference between eating and going hungry.
The collective action argues that supermarkets are obliged under the Equality Act to make reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities, but the British Retail Consortium has said that its primary aim is
“to ensure clinically shielded groups identified by Government could easily access food without added risks to their health.”
This excludes disabled people, contravening rights and leaving them unable to access the food that they require.
The kindness of neighbours and strangers may well define these times as we look back in years to come, but although home deliveries from government, charities, family and friends are welcome, people with disabilities have a right to independent living. I acknowledge the efforts of supermarkets and their staff to keep the nation fed during this pandemic, but can the Minister commit the Government to supportin them in ensuring that temporary procedures in place during this extraordinary period are fair and inclusive to all?