Scots vulnerable to the coronavirus are struggling to access vital home delivery services because the Scottish Government has failed to share data with retailers.
This makes this group of people – particularly those living in rural areas – even more reliant on home delivery services for essential supplies. Yet the online ordering services of many large retailers have become massively over-subscribed during the coronavirus lockdown.
Vulnerable Scots have been told by supermarkets that they cannot be given a priority delivery slot until the Scottish Government shares its list of vulnerable people. There is also no official mechanism for individuals to “self identify” directly to the companies involved.
But in England supermarkets have received information on vulnerable customers and are already able to offer priority slots, with those less vulnerable advised to go directly to stores to pick up their shopping.
An update to customers from Sainsbury’s chief executive Mike Coupe on 8 April confirmed that while it received the UK government database of vulnerable people requiring food deliveries, they were still awaiting databases from the devolved administrations.
The Ferret has been contacted directly by people who say they have found it impossible to secure a home delivery slot from any large retailer. Even when slots are available, it can be weeks before a delivery can be made.
One person said that they were “uncomfortable about sticking their hand up in public,” to ask for support, but were surprised that services available to people in England were not accessible to people in Scotland.
The Scottish Labour MSP, Daniel Johnson, wrote to the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on 7 April after being contacted by vulnerable constituents who had struggled to access food, medicine and other supplies during the lockdown.
He told The Ferret that while he recognised government efforts to assist vulnerable people via local authorities and the third sector, correspondence from constituents showed the efforts were “not enough.”
Johnson said many people were “finding the guidance confusing and muddled, and there is a real worry that those most in need are not receiving assistance”. He called on the government “to be more proactive in their approach”.
The Scottish Conservatives warned that the lack of support was forcing vulnerable people “to go without, or making them risk their own health by venturing out to the store themselves.” They said the Scottish government should follow the approach of the UK government.
It is possible for vulnerable people to register by text message for a free regular delivery of essential supplies from the government. But applicants are told: “If you have family or friends that can help you should not use this service.”
They are also told to contact their local council if they need urgent supplies.
At a press conference on 8 April, the First Minister said that Scots in the “shielded group” of very vulnerable people were on a list that is publicly available.
“All of these people have had a letter that gives them access to a text messaging service that they can register with if they need deliveries of food or medicines,” she said. “I know that the first deliveries of those have already gone out.”
Johnson said that supermarkets were “more than willing to get involved and provide the necessary provisions”. However “they need the same level of interaction with government as that being displayed down in England, where NHS information has been shared to secure priority for the most vulnerable.”
He added: “I have written to the First Minister and I do understand these are exceptional circumstances, but we owe it to those most at risk to provide assistance and support.
“It is vital that this is handled swiftly. The real worry is those who are elderly and most at risk are unable to get in touch to ask for assistance, and as such are being missed entirely by the lack of a linked up approach.”
The Tories called on the Scottish government to share a list of the “shielded individuals” with supermarkets to allow them to prioritise delivery slots to these households.
“As it stands, it’s far too difficult for vulnerable people to access this service”, said Tory shadow economy secretary Maurice Golden MSP. “That’s either forcing them to go without, or making them risk their own health by venturing out to the stores themselves.”
He added: “The UK government has managed to do this for people in England – it’s time the SNP government stepped up and did the same for Scotland.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We understand that this is a difficult time for many people, especially those who are vulnerable or at risk but are not part of the shielded category, such as older or disabled people, and detailed work is under way to support them.
“This includes work to allow supermarkets to implement the necessary arrangements to allow them to prioritise their delivery slots for those who are in the high clinical risk group, as well as those being shielded, and we will be sharing a list with supermarkets of those who have opted in to this service so deliveries can start next week.
“We have identified and written to over 136,000 people in the highest clinical risk groups in Scotland, including people in all of the key categories.”
Header image thanks to Vauxford.