Blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan has joined forces with more than 20 leading charities to write to the bosses of the UK’s biggest supermarkets, imploring retailers to suspend delivery charges for patients shielding during the national lockdowns across the UK.
The coalition of charities represent millions of people, including disabled people, people in later life and stem cell transplant patients, who are clinically vulnerable to COVID-19 and are being advised to shield.
Many of these patients are at very high risk if they are infected with COVID-19. They have been advised by the Government to take precautions to minimise their risk during the national lockdown, including not visiting supermarkets. This means they have little choice but to shop online, burdening them with additional delivery charges and minimum spend limits, significantly increasing the cost of food.
The chief executives of Anthony Nolan, Independent Age, Macmillan, Alzheimer’s Society, Scope, Carers UK and many others are making the plea directly to the CEOs of Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Iceland, Waitrose and Ocado. They say it is unfair to ask those who are shielding and people at greater risk from COVID-19 to stay at home to protect themselves and the NHS, and yet also have to take a financial hit just to access food.
During previous lockdowns, some supermarkets waived these extra charges but, as restrictions started to lift, the charges were gradually reintroduced. The charities insist supermarket charges are, once again, waived for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable.
Henny Braund, Chief Executive of Anthony Nolan says: “Ever since the first national lockdown in March last year, the lives of cancer patients and those receiving a stem cell transplant have been filled with anxiety and uncertainty. Strongly advised to shield at home, by government, many patients have been left with the added stress of safely accessing food whilst they continue their transplant recovery.
“We wrote to several major supermarkets before Christmas, making clear that these extra charges represent a premium placed on vulnerable customers during a period of intense disruption to people’s personal finances. This has come at a time when many cancer and transplant patients also experience changes to income as a result of their treatments and the time taken to recover.
“Transplant patients have told us of needing to order extra items they do not need to meet minimum basket spends or face being charged extra. We have also heard of patients losing their priority slots and being faced with paying £6 extra a week, which is a lot for many families, especially when income has been squeezed by the pandemic.
“No one at risk should be financially penalised for following the official advice to stay home. Free deliveries made a huge difference to people in the previous lockdown and we urge supermarkets to step up again and suspend the charges for people who are confined to their homes at this challenging time.”
The charities are particularly concerned about people at risk who are also on lower incomes, for whom delivery charges or minimum spends represent a disproportionately high cost. For some, this hit puts them in real financial trouble.
2020 was a bumper year of increased sales for the largest supermarket chains. Many large retailers revealed their resilience to the current economic headwinds by reimbursing hundreds of millions of pounds in business rates relief.
Throughout the pandemic many supermarkets have already taken steps to help those most at risk from COVID-19, including creating priority delivery slots for those who are at greater risk to ensure they are able to book a grocery delivery. The charities are asking supermarkets to act once again to help whose customers who are not as resilient as they are, by suspending delivery charges for priority delivery slots, and taking steps to reduce minimum spends.
Shoppers of all ages would support supermarkets in this move. Recent Independent Age / YouGov polling shows that three quarters of people (77%) agree that those who are unable to shop in supermarkets due to their age or underlying health conditions should not have to pay online delivery charges, with 81% agreeing that reductions should be made to minimum spend.