The campaign by sight loss charities included a petition to Defra with over 22,000 signatures
RNIB said social distancing and limited online delivery slots had made it “nearly impossible” for blind people to shop without support
Blind and partially sighted people in England can now access priority online grocery slots, following a campaign by sight loss charities.
Individuals who are unable to access food and have no local family or friends who can help them shop will be referred by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to Defra and added to the so-called ‘shield list’ shared with supermarkets.
The move follows “months of campaigning” by the RNIB, Guide Dogs, Thomas Pocklington Trust and Visionary, which included a petition to Defra with over 22,000 signatures.
“Blind and partially sighted people have been facing specific and unique challenges that have had an enormous impact on everyday independence,” said David Clarke, director of services at RNIB. “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,” Clarke added.
Changes to supermarket layouts, social distancing and limited online delivery slots have made it “nearly impossible” for blind and partially sighted people to shop without support, the RNIB said.
An RNIB survey found only half of blind and partially sighted people who shopped independently before lockdown were still doing so, and as a result one in five were also being forced to ration food.
The RNIB said it received 100 calls a day on the issue. There are two million people registered as blind in the UK.
Food minister Victoria Prentis said the priority slots were a “small but vital step towards helping people regain their independence”.
“We are continuing to work closely with local authorities, charities and food industry partners to make sure the support is there for those who need it,” she said.
Partially sighted individuals have described the move as a “real relief”.
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. She had become reliant on her neighbour to shop for her, she said.
“I’m normally a very independent person, but for weeks after lockdown started, I couldn’t get an online shopping slot despite trying every day,” she said. “I wrote to the main supermarkets and also my MP to ask for help, but nothing I did resulted in any food or support.
“I’ve been forced to rely on my neighbour, who has been helping me throughout. But I’ve also been rationing the food I have because I don’t want to keep asking them for things and put them at greater risk of catching the virus. The fact that I’ve been unable to get this most basic of necessities myself is shocking in 2020,” she added.
The sight loss organisations’ lobbying efforts have been ongoing since the start of the pandemic.
“Knowing that there is now guaranteed access to priority shopping slots for blind and partially sighted people will make a huge difference to people who want to return to living independent lives and offer additional assistance to the organisations who support them,” said Fiona Sandford, CEO of Visionary.
For information about the support available visit rnib.org.uk. People who are eligible can access the new support via RNIB’s Helpline on 0303 123 9999, from 8am to 8pm on weekdays and 9am to 5pm on Saturdays.