After months of campaigning by RNIB, Guide Dogs, Thomas Pocklington Trust and Visionary, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has recognised specific challenges faced by people with sight loss, among others. Defra has secured online shopping slots from a number of major supermarkets for people whose independence has been challenged by the lockdown, including those with sight loss. The scheme is particularly aimed at those who don’t have friends or family nearby who can easily shop for them.
Thanks to everyone who signed our petition and helped us explain just how important this is, now people in England who qualify can be referred to the shopping slots through RNIB’s Helpline on 0303 123 9999. Callers will speak to a member of our Sight Loss Advice Service who will assess the individual’s need and allocate them a slot if appropriate.
“We’re absolutely delighted that the Government has listened to our campaign on this. We know the situation has been hugely concerning for blind and partially sighted people and we know that for so many this change has been a long time coming,” said Sarah Lambert, Head of Social Change at RNIB.
The campaign isn’t over until shopping delivery slots are available for blind and partially sighted people who need them across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We’re continuing to influence in these nations to make sure everyone has access to the food and services they need.
Since lockdown began, for many blind and partially sighted people it has been nearly impossible to shop without support as they have been affected by changes to supermarket layouts, social distancing and limitations on online delivery slots. As a result, our research shows just half of the blind and partially sighted people who shopped independently before lockdown have continued to do so. One in five (21 per cent) are rationing food as a consequence.
Elizabeth Manuel, a former district judge from Portsmouth, was forced to ration a week's worth of food over several weeks after she was unable to get a supermarket slot online. Ms Manuel, who is partially sighted after suffering a brain haemorrhage when she was 47, self-isolated for 12 weeks from the start of lockdown. She still relies on her neighbour to shop for her.
Elizabeth said: “For weeks after lockdown, I went online every day trying to get a shopping slot. I wrote to the main supermarkets, and my MP to ask for help from the Council, but that didn’t result in any food or support either. My anxiety levels were very high, particularly when I got home having been hospitalised with Covid, and still had no delivery slot.
“I began to ration food as I didn’t want to overburden my amazing neighbour, who has been in helping me throughout, and put them at further risk from the virus.”
"This is 2020 and the fact that disabled people have been worried about having the most basic necessities is shocking! RNIB have provided support throughout, and with their help at last the real difficulties faced by blind and partially sighted people have been properly recognised by the Government. This is a real relief for me and for others with sight loss.”
David Clarke, Director of Services at RNIB, commented: “Blind and partially sighted people have been facing specific and unique challenges that have had an enormous impact on everyday independence. Our helpline has received thousands of calls from people worried about access to food and many are having to rely on the goodwill of strangers to get the essentials they needed.
“These new slots represent a first step in what, for many blind and partially sighted people, will be a long road to regaining their full independence, enabling them to buy what they want, when they want without support from others.”
Charles Colquhoun, Chief Executive of Thomas Pocklington Trust, said the new slots “will support people who have had to rely on strangers and volunteers to be able to shop independently again.” Fiona Sandford, CEO of Visionary, said she was “delighted” with the outcome of this campaign: “Since the start of this pandemic, local sight loss organisations have every day been speaking to people struggling to get access to food and shopping.
“They have put considerable efforts into helping people access food, often providing practical support to make this happen.
Blanche Shackleton, Head of Public Affairs, Campaigns and Influencing at Guide Dogs, added: “People with sight loss faced a double whammy of being unable to observe social distancing in supermarkets, while also being excluded from priority online delivery slots. Many were telling us they were really worried about how they were going to buy food at all. This is why we worked alongside people with sight loss, our partner organisations and members of the public to achieve this vitally important result.”
As well as work with Defra, RNIB has been working closely with supermarkets across the country, providing guidance to help them support blind and partially sighted customers in the current environment. We have also worked with wholesaler Brakes to set up an accessible ordering system for its goods in areas close to its delivery depots. The programme is currently trialling in Hertfordshire and Essex and is set to roll out across all Brakes’ delivery areas in England next week (22 June).
You can find more information about the support available across the UK, including the new priority online shopping slots for people with sight loss in England on our supermarket update page. People who are eligible can access this new support via RNIB’s Helpline on 0303 123 9999, from 8am to 8pm on weekdays and 9am to 5pm on Saturdays.
And if you’d like to hear more about our campaigns where you are, and help us push for the rights of blind and partially sighted people, please sign up to our campaigns news today.