UK Politics

MPs doubt supermarket scheme to spot carers

Carer holding elderly woman's hand
Image caption The government says the scheme is not a magic bullet but has a contribution to make

Using supermarkets to identify carers has been described as a "bemusing" and "nonsense headline-grabbing idea" by members of the health select committee.

Sainsbury's has begun training staff to look for signs that customers may be caring for elderly or disabled people.

They are told to give those doing two lots of shopping at once, or collecting two lots of prescriptions, information about services for carers in the area.

Minister Paul Burstow said it was one of several ways used to spot carers.

Sainsbury's announced last summer that it was working with the Department of Health on its scheme which aimed to identify "hidden carers" - those who do not think of themselves as carers, despite looking after someone.

'Real problem'

At a committee hearing Labour MP Barbara Keeley said she was "bemused" by the scheme. She questioned whether using supermarkets was the best way of identifying others in a similar situation.

"To identify carers through a double shop at Sainsbury's when there is the possibility to direct GPs through their contract to do this... I mean really, are we taking this issue of our commitment to carers seriously at all?" she said.

Her Labour counterpart, Rosie Cooper, described the scheme as a "nonsense headline-grabbing idea".

"None of this actually seems to be at the point of making a difference," she said.

"If the GP doesn't know there's a carer involved... then it's time to pack it up and go home.

"We're grateful for anything [Sainsbury's] can do but it's at the margins. We need to be dealing with the real problem... and that is helping families, carers and the cared for - it's just mad."

Care Services Minister Paul Burstow said GPs were being used but it was important to use a variety of ways to identify carers.

"What we're not doing is saying there is one magic bullet that allows you to identify all the carers in this country," he told the committee.

"It is a contribution to the identification of carers. I think it's wrong to denigrate a supermarket who chooses to act in a socially conscious way."

The Sainsbury's scheme has been trialled in Torbay, where the chain says it resulted in twice as many people signing up to the local carers' register as would normally be expected.

The scheme is now being rolled out in some London supermarkets.

Carers UK estimates there are 6.4 million carers in the UK, who provide £119 billion worth of care each year.

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