Panic buying, stocking up, call it what you like – it is the only rational response to the impending crisis

·4-min read
Panic buying, stocking up, call it what you like – it is the only rational response to the impending crisis

Have you seen my granny’s store cupboard? Not a euphemism. No rudery, please. It was a real cupboard, in the bottom half of her mock antique sideboard. It smelled of must and mahogany, and it was chock-full of tins of food. Habit, you see.

By the time I knew her, it was the 60s. Food rationing was long behind us. Moreover, barring the odd gas leak, the likelihood of your local greengrocer being blown to smithereens overnight was vanishingly small. Still, she had lived through an era when food was scarce. If you didn’t buy a thing today, it might not be there tomorrow. So, you queued. You bought when you could. You stored it.

Funny old woman, I told myself, growing up in an era of plenty. For years, decades, I grew fat – well, big-boned – on “just in time” groceries. Ah... bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, keeping to the bare minimum and wandering along to the shops every afternoon to top up my fridge. I barely ran a freezer.

Then Brexit. And Covid. And soon, inflation. As Brexit-day drew nearer, I heeded the harbingers of doom and started topping up. I created what I called my “hoard”. Laughing, then. Deathly serious, since. This earned me some temporary fame on social media and obscure European media channels. Mostly they wanted proof of Brits preparing for disaster. I was asked to chat on radio and TV. I wowed Jeremy Vine by allowing him to handle my Spam. Again, not a euphemism. But, he exclaimed, he hadn’t had Spam in years!

Since then, we’ve had Covid, leading to long periods when I couldn’t leave the house at all. I have “pre-existing conditions” and am still very locked up. I don’t have a car. And then last year, I acquired a chronic foot ailment – Morton’s neuroma, in case you wondered – which makes walking painful and difficult.

So now i’m stocked up on cat food and rice. Loo paper and pulses. Always cat food. Because I doubt Mr Paws would understand my explanation for any future shortages. “Once upon a time there was this plan called Brexit...”

Nothing perishable; and the less processed the better. OK, I admit the Spam. It fluctuates, but in general means I am holding an “extra” £200-300 of stuff at any one time, though that takes up much less room than you might think.

My public stance means I get a certain amount of flak from folks pointing out how selfish and privileged I am for stocking up. I’ll take half that, but not all. Because the reality is that this is the new reality. The UK has just undergone a series of highly disruptive shocks that have impacted daily life. Whether we like it or not, we are unlikely to return to “normal” any time soon. Nor am I alone. Once broached, and after a little blushing, many of my friends admit to similar habits.

As various experts have pointed out, we may be on the brink of the end of just in time, not for a brief inconvenient period, but long term. Supply is no longer smooth.

There are now major inflationary pressures in the system. Compare what you pay for basic products like bread or Clover (other spreads are available!) now to what it was pre-Brexit and the difference is heart-stopping. Just south of 25 per cent on bread; 25 to 90 per cent on the spread. Bottom line: the range and availability of cheap goods at the supermarket is shrinking. This won’t be fixed by online buying, which faces low budget shoppers with other issues, including hidden delivery costs and less ability to shop around. So it is wholly rational, when a friend offers a lift, to buy more than usual and stuff it in your store cupboard. Let’s face it, if you can mitigate that level of price increase, sticking £300 in a store cupboard, as opposed to a 0.1 per cent bank account is a no-brainer.

This is not the same as panic buying, though even that is pretty rational, and any government minister condemning the recent panic at the petrol pumps seems never to have heard of the “prisoner’s dilemma”.

Is all this hoarding a good thing? Probably not. It means that a small part of my disposable income is henceforth tied up in cans and packages to be used at some future date. My fridge overfloweth. It is harder for people on low income; for people who don’t have friends with cars. But it is where we are. And as we head towards 2022, I find myself more and more taking on the mantle, and the habits, of my gran. The Brexit mob wanted to take Britain back to a glorious past. I somehow don’t think they meant 1962.

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