A leading disabled Baptist minister fears that many disabled people could be left to starve to death because of the failure of the government and supermarkets to ensure they have a way to buy food during the coronavirus crisis.
The Rev Glen Graham has launched a petition with his wife Rowan to highlight their concerns and persuade the government and retailers to take urgent action.
Graham is blind, while his wife has only limited sight and several long-term health conditions, and they warn in their petition that many disabled people have been forgotten in the government’s emergency COVID-19 measures.
Last week, the government announced that 1.5 million disabled people had been categorised as “extremely vulnerable” to the virus and will receive regular deliveries of basic groceries if they do not have their own support network of friends and family.
Depending on demand, hundreds of thousands of boxes could be delivered each week, the government said this week.
The list includes those with severe respiratory conditions, many people on immunosuppression therapies, and those with certain cancers.
But supermarkets are being allowed to use the government database to prioritise their own home deliveries – although it is not yet clear how many supermarkets are doing so – and many disabled customers are being told they will only be considered for a delivery if they are on this restricted list.
This could leave millions of disabled people who cannot safely shop independently, or in many cases cannot even leave their homes, and who therefore have been left without a way to buy food.
Increasing concerns have been raised by the Grahams and other disabled people who say it is now impossible for them to order food online, because all the delivery slots are permanently booked.
Graham is minister at a Devon Baptist church and chair of the Churches for All network of disability-related Christian organisations, but is not speaking on their behalf.
He told Disability News Service: “I fear that people will be forgotten about. People could go hungry. People could starve to death.
“If I was a government person, I wouldn’t want that on my conscience.”
Many of those responding to the petition have raised fears for their own safety.
One said: “I am registered blind and I am not classed as vulnerable. There are no online delivery slots for weeks and I need help to do my shopping.
“I can’t go to the supermarket as I have no transportation and couldn’t carry bags on the bus even if one was running at regular intervals. I am stuck without food for myself and my dog and cats.”
Another said: “Can’t get any shopping online can’t go out it’s like we have been left to starve at home forgotten about.”
A third petition supporter said: “I am a totally blind mum of three children, working full time, but I cannot book any supermarket slot.
“I believe when I go out and try to go shopping that exposes me to the risk of falling ill yet somehow I have to feed our family.”
Graham, who advises the Baptist Church on disability issues, said: “We could cope better if we could make sure of the [delivery] service that has helped us all along.
“Yet again our choices are being limited. Most of the public can choose when to go shopping.
“At the moment, all we can choose to do is hope for the benevolence of someone else if they are free and able. That’s a very risky business.
“It does demoralise you, because the independence you have is locked down with you in the lockdown.”
The Grahams live in the Exeter area and managed just before the crisis worsened last month to book a delivery of groceries, which was delivered on Monday this week, but they have been unable to find any other delivery slots.
They believe they will now have to continue to rely on the kindness of friends who have been delivering fresh food to them.
Rowan Graham said: “We have friends who are leaving perishables for us and also helping out the elderly people in their own villages as well, but how long will they be able to keep that going?”
She said that she and her husband had gone overnight from being independent to being “extremely vulnerable” because of the loss of their ability to book food deliveries online.
She said: “The government has made us extremely vulnerable. I am trying not to be concerned about it but 95 per cent of our shopping has always been done online and the other five per cent by our cleaner.
“People will starve if they are not already doing so. They will starve to death.”
She said some of the stories from disabled people who have already signed their petition were “heart-breaking”.
She called on the government and retailers to provide more delivery slots to disabled people not in the “extremely vulnerable” group.
Her husband said this would “solve a whole load of problems” and would ensure both “safety” and “empowerment” for disabled people.
He said: “We are hearing all this stuff about ‘we are in it together’, but unless there is a widening of that group, we are not in it together. It simply isn’t true.”
*Sources of information and support during the coronavirus pandemic include the following:
2 April 2020. News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com.