Food to the vulnerable under the spotlight

Donald Cameron MSP Photograph: Wullie Marr

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Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron has raised concerns over possible delays to vulnerable people receiving food during the lockdown.

Thousands of people cannot leave their home during the pandemic because they have been told to isolate completely.

Mr Cameron, the opposition finance minister for the Conservatives, expressed concern about what he called ‘a different approach’ taken by the Scottish Government compared to the UK government when it comes to passing on information about vulnerable people to national supermarkets.

Mr Cameron said: ‘The UK government simply passed its list (of shielded people) on to the big chains, which allowed them to prioritise delivery slots for those who needed them most.’

He said the Scottish Government had launched a text service which ‘forced’ such people to get in touch which had not meant as many people reached out, and said there was ‘confusion’ over the numbers of people eligible.

‘Frankly, our big supermarket chains could do without having to manage a separate system in Scotland which has been introduced by the SNP simply for the sake of being different,’ said Mr Cameron.

Argyll and Bute MP Brendan O’Hara, for the SNP, said securing food deliveries to the islands over the last few weeks had been a priority.

‘While it may far easier to arrange distribution on the mainland, we face unique geographical and logistical challenges here in Argyll and Bute. I have been working with colleagues in the Scottish government, Argyll & Bute Council, and local communities to do everything we can to find a solution to this problem and get the best outcome for our island communities.

He said Fergus Ewing, cabinet secretary for the rural economy, had discussions with Tesco, the Co-op and other food producers, wholesalers and food distributors to help communities.

Meanwhile, First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon told a media briefing this afternoon that the Scottish Government had ‘more than doubled’ grants from £35 million to £80 million.

This had allowed local councils to provide ‘immediate help’ to those on low incomes for essentials such as food, she said.

Mrs Sturgeon added: ‘If you are one of the approximately 150,000 people who are in what we call the shielded group, the most vulnerable group who are being told to isolate completely, then our text messaging shielding service, or your local authority helpline or our national helpline can help you to order free weekly deliveries of basic food and essential supplies.’

‘So far, more than 41,000 packages of food have been delivered and people who have signed up in the last week, while they may not have had their first delivery, will do so shortly.’

The national helpline can also be used by others potentially at risk, she said.

These include the over-70s, people with disabilities, pregnant women, those eligible for the annual flu jab, and those needing support from mental health services, she said.

The helpline number is 0800 111 4000 and directs people to their local authority who can provide guidance on grants and food deliveries.

A government spokesperson also said it had identified and written to people in the highest clinical risk groups – the ‘shielded’ group.

A government spokesperson said: ‘If people have not received a letter but feel they should be in the shielding group, they should speak to their GP or specialist clinician.

‘Our free-of-charge grocery packages have been delivered directly to doorsteps since April 3.

‘While not everyone who is shielding needs assistance with groceries, so far, more than 60,000 people have registered for the shielding text message service and more than 31,000 people have signed up for these regular box deliveries.

‘We are also working with the main supermarkets so that they can prioritise delivery slots for those who are shielding,’ the spokesperson said.