United Kingdom police forces report a rise in shoplifting. You may think that this is just a normal rise in those that steal for gain. However, whilst shoplifting of non-food-items has fallen, food item shoplifting has risen dramatically. These are not, according to police officers, luxury items to sell on to raise money. These are staple items such as bread and food for family consumption. Chief Superintendant Chris Sykes, Greater Manchester Police recently led a seminar on the problem. He said that people were not stealing to order, but stealing food to feed their families. This dramatic rise comes after a Save The Children report on the poorest families in Britain, saying many damning things about how successive government have given tax cuts rather than tackling child poverty. It is all very embarrassing for the Conservative Party about to begin their annual conference.
A Conservative/Liberal Coalition government currently governs Britain, which is “reorganizing”, their euphemism for cutting, benefits payments. There have already been some cuts, but more and deeper cuts are coming in 2013. Meanwhile, the government gave a hefty tax cut to people paying higher rate tax, in its budget. Britain is in a double dip recession. The government says it wants to “make work pay”, all very well when there are jobs but in this economic climate, there are no jobs. The Public sector is losing jobs at an increasing rate and this will increase further in 2013. The government proudly claims that the private sector has created 100,000 jobs, but a look at the statistics confirms that these are low grade, part-time or temporary jobs. The banks are not lending to small and medium sized companies, how can they employ the increasing number of ex-public sector workers? The Conservatives seem to have drifted back to Victorian values and ideas of the deserving and undeserving poor and the trickle down economics theory prevalent under Margaret Thatcher’s government.
The gap between rich and poor has been widening for thirty years, successive governments have followed the same economic orthodoxy. When will they realize that it does not work? The current government seems to want to take poor people back to Victorian times, with Lady Bountiful dispensing soup to the “deserving” poor. The vast majority of poor people are not feckless, work shy or lazy. They are just poor and the government is progressively making them even poorer.
In 1945, the Beveridge report led to the Welfare state’s creation to provide a safety net to guarantee freedom from want. Yes, benefits do need changing for modern times and they need simplifying and, when there are jobs, people should not be languishing on benefits. When people are stealing bread, rather than luxury items, they are clearly doing so because they need that bread to feed their families.
The rise in the number of food banks, in Britain illustrates amply the plain fact that people do not have enough food to feed their families. Food banks were virtually unknown in Britain until recently. They were something that most Britons heard about from American internet friends. There are now around 250.The Trussel Trust opens 3 food banks every week in Britain aiming to have a food bank in every town in the UK. There are food banks today in relatively prosperous British areas. People talk about Surrey as the stockbroker belt and yet it has food banks, even in prosperous areas such as Farnham.
Local councils, charities and Members of Parliament are referring desperate people to food banks in Austerity Britain, because they now fall through the gaps in the so-called safety net. BBC radio item on people using food banks, because they simply do not have enough food, spoke of a young mother, in a rural area, who walked miles to the food bank and back because she had no food in the house.
Prices, utility bills and the cost of living increase almost weekly. Yet though executive pay rose 40% in two years, ordinary people’s wages are falling and they are losing their jobs. It is no wonder that people are stealing to put food on the table.
Food shoplifters used to steal luxury items such as large joints of beef and smoked salmon, expensive items that they could convert into money. Grocery shoplifters now take basic foods, such as bread, to feed their own families. In the twenty-first century, should people living in the sixth wealthiest nation in the world have to turn to crime to feed their families? The reason behind the rise in food shoplifting, in the United Kingdom, is, increasingly, poverty and desperation.