A British disabled athlete was left feeling “helpless and embarrassed” when she had to ask strangers on Facebook if they could get her some food after two supermarkets cancelled their deliveries.
Natasha Coates, 25, and from Nottingham, has been shielding since Covid-19 broke out in March last year as she has mast cell activation syndrome and autism – meaning she’s deemed clinically extremely vulnerable.
Natasha, who won 22 British titles, told the Mirror her Asda food delivery got cancelled three hours before it was due to arrive on January 25.
Natasha managed to get another Tesco delivery for the next day before that too was cancelled. She said it left her feeling “embarrassed” as she couldn’t provide for her family, who is shielding with her.
“I felt so vulnerable stuck in my house unable to just get the basics,” she said.
“I ended up having to post in my local Facebook group to see if anyone was going shopping, and if they could pick up a few things for me and I would transfer the cost to them.
“I felt so helpless and embarrassed. I’m a 25-year-old woman who currently can’t even source food for myself and my parents. I can’t tell you how much that hurts.
“I was overwhelmed with responses and we had things dropped off that same evening. Even my postman offered to help. I felt so vulnerable, and people were so incredibly kind.
“So I have milk for my cup of tea and my faith in humanity has been restored.
“But I shouldn’t have to rely on the kindness of strangers to get food. There needs to be much more support for shielders like me.”
Natasha is backing calls by disabled people’s charity Scope for the government to come up with an emergency support package to help those who are shielding.
According to research commissioned by the charity – which is backed by the All Party Parliamentary Group for disability – a “huge numbers of disabled people are going without vital support” .
The charity’s Opinium survey of 1,000 disabled people found 28 per cent think they have had less support available this lockdown compared to previous ones.
That while only one in four have been able to get all the support they’ve needed from supermarkets.
Meanwhile, 44 per cent of respondents reported having difficulty getting deliveries from supermarkets.
The research also found people struggled to get help from their council and central government as just one in 10 were able to get all they needed. Just six per cent were able to have all their requirements met by social care.
James Taylor, executive director of strategy, impact and social change at Scope, said: “Many disabled people have been shielding for almost a year, cut off from loved ones, mental and physical health unravelling.
“Almost two thirds of all those who’ve died from Covid-19 were disabled people.
“Despite these sacrifices, disabled people have been continuously ignored and forgotten by the government.
“It’s shameful that a year into this, so many are still having to struggle to get vital support with basics such as food and social care.
“This cannot continue. We need an emergency support package to protect disabled people’s health and finances.”
Scope outlined multiple measures the government could take to improve the livelihoods of people.
They include getting supermarkets to waive delivery costs and remove minimum spends on online deliveries.
There should also be a “clear and accessible” communication about supermarket slots and priority hours, while food boxes that satisfy recipients’ requirements should be reintroduced.
Despite the risks of being vaccinated with her condition still being largely unknown, Natasha recently decided to go for the first dose of the AstraZeneca jab as compared to Covid, “it’s the lesser of the two evils”.
“If I were to catch Covid it would very likely kill me,” she said.
Reiterating calls for the government to ensure the vulnerable aren’t left to their own devices, she said: “It’s not like we’re asking for more – we just want what everyone else can access,” Natasha said.
“I’m 14 days away to a year since I started shielding and why don’t we still have that support? It’s a basic quality of life.
“It makes you feel like you’re not as important as a person. But our life is just as important as anybody else’s. We contribute to society as much as anyone else.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the government is “committed” to supporting disabled people.
“We recognise this continues to be a hugely challenging period for disabled people, particularly those who are having to shield, and we are committed to supporting them, their families and carers through this pandemic and beyond.
“The Government continues to provide extensive advice and support to people identified as clinically extremely vulnerable and this includes access to food and medicines deliveries, as well as assistance for people unable to work from home through statutory sick pay or Employment and Support Allowance.
“At the same time, the NHS is working tirelessly to vaccinate people who are most at risk, as quickly as possible, and we are closely following the independent advice of the experts at the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation who deemed age the biggest mortality factor.”
Asda apologised for the cancellation and said in a statement: “We have made regular deliveries to Ms Coates throughout the pandemic but unfortunately due to heavy snow we had to cancel her delivery on 25th January because it was unsafe in these conditions.
“We know this is frustrating, but we are pleased we have been able to redeliver every week since and have apologised for any inconvenience this caused.”
Tesco said in a statement:“Since the start of the pandemic we have put our most vulnerable customers first and ensured they are able to access priority delivery, with over 800,000 customers now able to access priority delivery slots.
“We have apologised to the family for their delivery being cancelled because of driver absence, and have confirmed that they will now receive priority access for future orders.”