Attaching security tags to every basic food item will not make people shrug their shoulders and pay up. It will make them not eat. Punching Up asks whether this is more important than supermarkets losing money.

They’re locking up milk, cheese and meat. The vegans, I hear you ask? No, you fool, the supermarkets! How else is a dystopia meant to respond to desperate people stealing to survive?

There is probably no sight quite as depressing as security-tagged baby food, surrounded by signs saying “Smile! You’re on CCTV”. It seems corporations either believe people are stealing baby food out of malicious intent or for a hobby, or they simply don’t care for the real reason.

The trouble is, a lot of people have very little reason not to shoplift. Take a look at the obvious reasons: You’ll get in trouble for breaking the law, stealing is morally wrong, or it’s harmful to the economy. Each of these arguments can be shut down in less words than it takes to ask a supermarket worker if they can get you one of the real jars of coffee locked up out back.

The popular arguments are as follows:

  1. It’s worth the risk if the alternative is you – or your kid – going hungry
  2. Stealing helps the shoplifter more than it harms the corporation
  3. See number 2.

The longer the cost of living crisis goes on and the more deeply it permeates every aspect of daily life, the more people become totally turned off to corporate messaging (if they were ever turned on to it before). Something like shoplifting doesn’t seem so serious at the minute, because in the context of everything else going on, it isn’t.

Aly* is a self-declared “shoplifter sympathiser”, and thinks that shoplifting either out of necessity or as “a little treat” is justified. Not one to advocate harming small businesses, she says, “The way I see it, if it’s a chain, it’s free reign.”

Another social media user said: “Inflation isn’t real. Make things cheaper or I will steal them.”

In March, police forces across the UK recorded a 30.9% increase in shoplifting cases compared to this time last year. It’s no shock that there have been more cases when food prices have gone up 19.1% in the year leading up to April 2023, but it is perhaps surprising that this isn’t actually exceeding pre-pandemic levels.

Tom Ironside, director of business and regulations at the British Retail Consortium, told the BBC: “Shoplifting cost retailers almost £1bn in 2021/22, money that would be better used to reduce prices and invest in a better customer experience.”

But million-pound chains losing a few quid here and there, totalling a billion or not, does not matter to ordinary people as much as you might think.

In small survey of Punching Up’s audience, not one person said that shoplifting is always unacceptable, although a few did choose not to respond. an Almost equal 50/50 split of people who believe shoplifting out of necessity is fine, and who believe shoplifting for any reason is fine.

More simply, as one of our shoplifting sympathisers wisely said: “Fuck Tesco.”