Is there really a “cost of living crisis” or are people just taking the piss?

Ashton (Ladysmith) Shopping Precinct
Ashton (Ladysmith) Shopping Precinct by David Dixon is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

Does anyone find it strange that in much of the news media, in one breath they are telling people there is a ‘cost of living crisis’ and then in the next, they are encouraging people to spend money with their favourite retailers, or promoting some swanky restaurant, over-priced Christmas market, or some unaffordable city-centre apartment?

Anyway, the idea for this blog post came about after reading this story yesterday:

A supermarket boss has started posting CCTV of suspected shoplifters on TikTok – after spotting thieves nine times in one week.

Staff at Mr Khan’s, in Winson Green, Birmingham, also share the footage on Instagram, garnering hundreds of thousands of views on their accounts.

Danny Khan, who runs the Jamaican food store with his father, said outing suspects on social media was acting as a deterrent.

“More and more people are getting shamed and then coming back and saying sorry and sometimes they pay for items. If they do that we will take the video down,” he said.

“The police have never come round, every time we reported it no-one ever comes. They’re busy so we went to social media.”

“Supermarket boss using TikTok to shame shoplifters” – BBC News, 17th January 2024

Now to be honest, that sounds about right, with the police not really being interested in shoplifting. However I do warn that this could come back to bite them in the arse, in two ways actually.

First, some people are that desperate for social media ‘attention’, that this might actually encourage more people to come and do a little shoplifting, just so they can get some bragging rights amongst their own followers.

Secondly, while the police may not appear to be interested in ‘petty crimes’ such as shoplifting nowadays, there are all sorts of GDPR and data protection laws in place now, that it wouldn’t take much for some individual to make a complaint to the police about video footage of them being posted on the internet “without their consent”, for the police to come down hard on Mr Khan for doing just that.

Yes, we really do live in a bizarro clown-world!

Anyway, that’s just my take on that aspect of the story, but what really got me thinking about this was the following from the same article:

During the cost of living crisis there has been a 100% increase in the theft of food in the West Midlands, figures show.

West Midlands Police recorded 3,138 stolen food products in 2023, compared with 1,572 in 2022.

Meat and confectionary were the most shoplifted food items, but thefts of baby food, nappies and other essentials like toothbrushes and cleaning products also increased last year.

Most items were not categorised and so the true figure of thefts is much higher.

Graham Wynn, assistant director of Business Regulation at the British Retail Consortium, said: “These high levels of theft are unsurprising. Retail crime has been getting increasingly worse, with thieves becoming bolder and more aggressive.

“It also costs retailers, and ultimately customers, £953m a year (in the UK) – money that would be better spent on reducing prices for customers.

“We need the police to give retail crime greater prioritisation.”

Right from the start, the claim is that ‘food theft’ is a direct result of this ‘cost of living crisis’.

I used to work in a retail store years ago, and shoplifting is certainly not a ‘new phenomenon’, it has been going on for years. Even back then, you were lucky if a police officer actually turned up, they’d take a statement and description of the offender, give you a crime reference number, maybe take away some CCTV footage, but no-one would get caught.

Maybe it’s more likely that thieves are “becoming bolder and more aggressive” because they know that they can get away with it. A brave shop-worker who tackles and confronts a shoplifter these days is more likely to be charged with assault themselves, or worse still ends up injured or maimed from being stabbed.

Good honest people who are genuinely being affected by this ‘cost of living crisis’ are more likely to just ‘tighten their belts’ and find ways to save money and just live within their means.

But I do feel there are an increasing number of people who have such a sense of entitlement that they think they deserve ‘everything for nothing’, or have no idea how to manage their finances or live within their means, and would rather spend what little money they do earn on ‘drugs’ or other non-essentials.

Anything else they can get for ‘free’ is just a bonus to them. Yes, we used to call these people ‘freeloaders’, but it seems you’re not allowed to call them that now, they are ‘victims’!

Which brings me on to another article I read recently, which made me question again the nature of foodbanks and who really uses them.

A Birmingham foodbank has pleaded with users not to dump unwanted donated items on the street. The Quinton Foodbank spoke out after reports surfaced on Facebook of food being abandoned in the wider area despite having been donated by kind members of the public.

Organisers said they were inundated with requests and asked users only to take what they needed. The foodbank issued around 5,000 parcels in the year to last April and said it was as busy as ever in the cost-of-living crisis.

The service, based at St Boniface Church, off Quinton Road West, posted on Facebook: “We have had a couple of posts on Facebook about food from Foodbank being dumped in the area. PLEASE IF YOU USE THE FOODBANK LET THEM KNOW IF THERE IS SOMETHING YOU DO NOT WANT.

“It is really disheartening for not only the volunteers who work tirelessly but also the kind people who donate food. Thank you.”

“Foodbank’s plea after donations found dumped on the street” – Birmingham Mail, 12th January 2024

I do remember a similar story from a couple of years ago, from another food bank based in Smethwick, where people were helping themselves to ‘food parcels’ and then just dumping what they “didn’t want” on the pavements nearby once they got outside.

Again, I don’t doubt that there are people genuinely struggling to get by, for whom these foodbanks and their generosity are a lifeline.

But one also can’t help but feel that they also attract the kind of people who just think they can get something for ‘free’.

Of course, the ‘cost of living crisis’ is also blamed for the rise in the number of foodbanks being set up, to cater for a growing demand.

It almost dismays me to think that there are people who will willingly help themselves to ‘free’ food items that have been generously donated by well-meaning people who can afford to buy them and give away, only to toss away what they don’t want.

Genuinely hard-up people would be grateful for anything they received and would make good use of it. And if there was something in your food parcel that you didn’t want, you’d just hand it back, so someone else could have the opportunity.

As for any actual ‘cost of living crisis’, well from my own experiences, I do question this.

Yes, it is true that a lot of things have ‘gone up in price’ over the last couple of years, and many things are more expensive now.

Many people still have money to spend on loads of Christmas presents, or tattoos, piercing or jewellery, or ever more expensive mobile phone contracts, or online streaming TV subscriptions. And even in recent weeks/months, many people have no problems buying expensive fireworks it seems!

While I do believe there are people genuinely struggling to make ends meet with their finances, I cannot help but feel there is equally a growing number of people who are just ‘taking the piss now’, and taking advantage of our lax criminal enforcement to just help themselves to ‘freebies’, knowing full well there are no ‘consequences’ for their actions.

It’s all part of the intended breakdown of ‘civilised society’, and if anyone looks or observes closely you can see this happening already.

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