Coronavirus in Wales: No free food box if shielding starts again

By Alun Jones
BBC Wales Political Unit

  • Published
food boxImage source, Welsh Government
Image caption,
More than 163,000 of these free food boxes have been delivered during the pandemic

There will not be another food box scheme for those most at risk from coronavirus in Wales if another shielding period is required.

More than 163,000 free boxes have been delivered to those who needed them, with 130,000 on the shielding list.

The Welsh Tories said support should be maintained, and Plaid Cymru said the move was unacceptable.

But the Welsh Government said Wales was the last part of the UK to end state-funded food support.

It said continued support was available for the vulnerable through councils and the voluntary sector.

People in at-risk groups with underlying health conditions have been advised to stay indoors since the start of the pandemic to protect themselves, but Wales' chief medical officer Dr Frank Atherton said last week they would be able to go to work, school or the shops after 16 August.

Dr Atherton added the measures would be kept under review in case of a rise in transmission levels.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Priority slots have been available at supermarkets for those who need them

The Welsh Government said in a statement the Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths decided "to end the current food box scheme for shielding people on 16 August at the same time as shielding advice is paused and that a new food box scheme will not be procured for any subsequent shielding period".

The Welsh Government set aside £15m for the direct food delivery service in the spring - although the total costs are not yet available.

They said each box cost between £31 and £35, though delivery costs vary between areas.

Food boxes 'a lifeline'

Welsh Conservative health spokesperson Andrew RT Davies called for the Welsh Government to explain the reasons for reviewing the policy: "The food boxes provided to people shielding during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown have been a lifeline.

"Therefore the Welsh Government should also ensure that supporting measures are maintained to support vulnerable people - if a second period of shielding is required."

Plaid Cymru's Delyth Jewell said: "This news is utterly unacceptable, and yet another example of the Welsh Government neglecting the people who are shielding.

"Early on in this crisis, 13,000 shielding letters were sent to the wrong addresses, and when shielding advice changed in June, those affected by the decision had to find out from press statements instead of hearing from the government directly."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
People who are shielding "can gradually resume day-to-day life" Wales' chief medical officer has said

Despite the changes, last week Wales' chief medical officer Dr Frank Atherton said supermarkets would continue to offer priority delivery slots for those in the shielding group.

The prescription delivery service will remain in place until 30 September,

James Taylor, from disability equality charity Scope, said almost a third of disabled people would not leave home when lockdown ends.

It is vital they are still able to get delivery slots from supermarkets, he said. "Shielding may be set to pause, but the need for some disabled people to have a safe and effective method of food delivery will not."

Wales 'last part of UK to end shielding scheme'

A spokesperson for the Welsh Government said: "Advice from the chief medical officer for Wales is that shielding will pause on 16 August, and the contract for the food box scheme for the shielding group will come to an end on that date."

It added: "The food box scheme was introduced to address logistics issues nationwide, and to provide access to essential food supplies when the supply chain was under considerable strain - coverage for online shopping, commercial food boxes and volunteer supported shopping has improved during this time.

"Wales is the last part of the UK to end the shielding scheme, and to end state-funded food support.

"Continued support is available for the vulnerable through local authorities and the voluntary sector should people need it. Supermarkets have also reassured us that they will continue to make priority slots available to those who have been advised to shield."

What about shielding in the other UK nations?

England - The 2.2 million people who have been self-isolating in England during the pandemic will no longer need to shield from 1 August.

Scotland - 180,000 people have been shielding in Scotland. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was hoped the need for shielding could be paused entirely at the end of July.

Northern Ireland - The 80,000 people deemed to be at most risk from coronavirus will be able to go outside again when the shielding period ends on 31 July.