British life-style: People increasingly turning to food black market

11:01 30.12.2023 •

Goods such as meat, cheese and confectionery stolen in large amounts to be sold to people hit by high cost of living, informs ‘The Guardian’. Increasing numbers of people are turning to a growing black market for food to supplement their diets as prices rocket, experts have said.

Meat, cheese and confectionery are among the items being stolen in large quantities from shops and lorries in order to be sold to people hit by the cost of living crisis.

With food prices rising, figures in policing, retail and academia said action was needed to stop people exploiting the rising demand for stolen food.

Retailers are reporting a record year for shoplifting, costing the industry £1bn this year, according to the British Retail Consortium’s estimate. Home Office data shows the crime has reached the highest level since records began, while the proportion of shoplifting incidents that resulted in a charge has fallen.

Andrew Goodacre, the chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association said the cost of living crisis had made people “think of alternative ways of sourcing items that are essential to them”. He said shops that had not faced shoplifting in the past were reporting thieves clear whole shelves in seconds.

“I think that’s because the black market has got so much bigger,” he said.

Prof Emmeline Taylor, a criminologist and shoplifting expert at City, University of London, agreed. She said, facing a cost of living crisis, many consumers were more willing to “turn a blind eye” to stolen food.

She said: “I don’t think hardworking people who are now finding themselves in poverty are suddenly turning into criminals overnight. I think it’s more complicated than that.

“A lot of people are more willing to buy stolen goods than to actually shoplift themselves because they’re one step removed from it.”

Taylor said people told themselves it was a victimless crime, that theft was built into the business models of big retailers, that supermarkets were the real criminals for raising prices or that shops were ripping off farmers or their own staff.

She said this was known as neutralisation, essentially “moral justifications that people conjure up to make themselves feel better when they’re doing something wrong”.

“Another technique of neutralisation would be, ‘Well how was I supposed to know it’s stolen?’ And that’s much more palatable for somebody than knowing full well themselves that they did steal something. So that’s where I think the cost of living crisis is creating the demand for stolen goods.”

Wendy Chamberlain, a former police officer turned Lib Dem MP who chairs the all-party parliamentary group for the elimination of food banks, said it was “not surprising” that people were obtaining food through criminal means.

She said important nutritional foods had “essentially rocketed in price” and that food poverty could be particularly acute this time of year, with food banks providing only essentials that were generally “not particularly attractive or nutritional”.

She said: “When money is tight, when they’ve spent a long time saying ‘no’ to other family members, the opportunity to buy something a bit more premium and high end, with ‘ask no questions’, and ‘off the back of a lorry’, as it were, is appealing.”

In October, police and the government launched an initiative called Pegasus, with £600,000-worth of funding provided by some of the UK’s biggest retailers. Among other things, it involves a new police intelligence team aiming to target organised crime gangs moving into retail theft.


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