Is the Cost-of-Living Crisis Creating a New Wave of ‘Social Banditry’?



Inflation, debt and financial threat


The cost of butter; who knew it could cause such national panic? The cost-of-living crisis in the UK has not only triggered a financial scare but has also sparked a morality debate, with prices rising and the public’s patience thinning.


Disposable income is becoming finer and finer. Inflation is skyrocketing, and wages are not rising at a high enough rate to keep up with the new price of living. Since energy bills are surging, and the rate of food inflation has been increasing at an all-time high since 1982, it is no wonder families are having to choose between heating their homes or having dinner that night.

Researchers say that in June 2022, 4.4 million households were struggling financially, 1.6 million more than October 2021.

Not only can low-income families not afford luxuries such as holidays and designer goods, but they are also struggling to provide their families with basic heat, water and food. In this current economic climate, working two minimum wage jobs may still not be enough to provide a comfortable standard of living. Only the households earning more than £100,000 a year were reported to have no drastic increase in hardship.


Acts of desperation


Due to this financial struggle, people have been forced to take matters into their own hands, with the only government advice being to improve budgeting skills. Inevitably, there has been a surge in shoplifting and theft.

According to a former police officer: “the impact of poverty, and the impact of lack of opportunity for people, does lead to an increase in crime.”

In a recent survey, it was found that one in three participants admitted to stealing items this year, 69% of which claimed to be struggling financially.


Thieving in supermarkets has heightened so drastically that dairy items such as cheese and butter are now being marked with security tags to prevent them from being swiped. Toiletries and hygiene products are the most common casualties in this shoplifting revolt, followed by baby formula, priced beyond the means of many mothers. The vast quantity of vital items being stolen from supermarkets indicates how detrimental the increased living prices are for the working class. Police officers are even being guided to use their own discretion in instances of shoplifting cases, as they sympathise with those desperate for the basic necessities. In circumstances of hygiene products and baby milk, we are forced to reassess our moral compasses and decide whether the law equates to justice.


Are shoplifters the modern-day Robin Hood?


Since the motivation of the thieves are simply to survive, I question whether these ‘criminals’ can be justified as ‘social bandits’? Social bandits reject exploitation and challenge the law with a sense of nobility, like how the fictional character Robin Hood heroically robbed the rich to give to the poor. Poverty and hardships are common causes of social banditry, as people have no choice but to rebel against an inequitable society. Shoplifting may be seen as justified, and even honourable, with living prices being so high and government support being so little.


Additionally, while the thieving may be out of necessity, it may also be motivated by a matter of principle. As 76% of people have expressed that the government are not doing enough to help the poor (shown in a recent survey), the influx of robbery is sending a strong message, and one that the government cannot ignore. The surge in crime is a form of protest, and a way for the working class to demand support and attention when it comes to living fees and wages.


Where do we go from here?


The rise in crime is happening for a reason, whether justified or not. People are breaking the law to merely achieve a basic standard of living. In an economically developed country like the UK, no one should have to sacrifice a shower to eat breakfast. Knowing the inflation issue is continuing to magnify, the government need to act now, with better support than simple budgeting advice. Poverty does not only affect people’s physical health, but also induces stress and anxiety, with millions of families at breaking point. Since more and more members of the working-class are losing respect for the UK government, only more anarchy and disorder is to come.