By Fiona Macrae
Supermarket staff are being trained by health officials to ‘spy’ on customer shopping baskets, it emerged last night.
The government-backed scheme to be rolled out at Sainsbury’s stores nationwide aims to identify ‘hidden carers’ – people who look after elderly, sick or disabled relatives do not realise they could be entitled to support.
Under the scheme, cashiers will be asked to watch out for unusual shopping habits and taught to discretely ask customers about their personal circumstances while serving them.
The customers will then be put in touch with charities that can provide information on financial and practical help and respite care.
The Department of Health says the initiative will help some of Britain’s army of unpaid carers to quickly and easily find out about the help they are entitled to.
But critics said the scheme amounted to state-sponsored spies prying into people’s private lives.
Tell-tale signs include shoppers who have two baskets of groceries and pay for each separately.
Pharmacists will also be trained to quiz people who are picking up prescriptions for other people.
Those who say they are caring for someone will be directed to a stand set up in the store by a carers’ charity.
A pilot scheme in Torbay, Devon, led to more than 140 people seeking help in just two months.
The scheme is to be extended around the country, although it will not operate in all stores at the same time.
A spokesman for Sainsbury’s said all questioning would be done in an ‘absolutely discrete and unobtrusive manner’.