Keir Starmer: 'I would pay for baby formula being stolen by desperate mum in shop'

The Labour leader said the Conservative Party should feel 'shame' over people resorting to stealing baby formula.

June 18, 2024, London, England, United Kingdom: Labour Leader KEIR STARMER leaves LBC after a phone-in with Nick Ferrari. (Credit Image: © Tayfun Salci/ZUMA Press Wire) EDITORIAL USAGE ONLY! Not for Commercial USAGE!
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said the shoplifting of baby formula is a sign of the Tories' failures. (Alamy)

Sir Keir Starmer has said that if he witnessed a mother attempting to shoplift baby formula, he would offer to pay for it.

The question was put to the Labour leader by the Big Issue, which also asked prime minister Rishi Sunak, the Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey and Scottish first minister John Swinney what they'd do in the scenario.

It follows reports of a surge in shoplifting and other criminal offences following the cost of living crisis, which has seen soaring inflation and sharp price rises for everyday essentials.

The price of baby formula has reached "historically high" levels, with some supermarkets placing security tags on the products, and the Competition and Markets Authority watchdog launching a market study to help consumers.

Asked what he would do if he saw someone trying to steal baby formula, Starmer told the Big Issue: "I’d offer to pay it. The desperation of families around the country should make the Tories feel nothing but shame.”

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Tory leader Sunak said: “Shoplifting is not a victimless crime, and we’ll always support shopkeepers to prevent theft. At the same time, we will continue to help parents with the cost of living.”

Liberal Democrat leader Davey said: “I’d try and try to persuade [the parent] not to, obviously... Try and find them other help, that would be the best way of doing it.”

Meanwhile SNP leader and first minister of Scotland John Swinney said: “I’d discreetly offer to pay for the formula as no parent should ever have to face this situation... Sadly this is not hypothetical – I meet with my constituents, and people across Scotland, every week who face this kind of hardship.”

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), shoplifting offences recorded by police in England and Wales have risen to the highest level in 20 years.

Some 402,482 offences were recorded in the year to September 2023, up nearly a third (32%) on 304,459 in the previous 12 months.

A survey by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) puts the figure even higher, reporting a record high of 16.7 million shoplifting incidents in 2023.

The trade-association's claim that only 36% of retail crimes are reported to police, and additional data from Scotland, could explain the discrepancy with the ONS figures.

Respondents to the survey suggested that pressures caused by the cost of living crisis could be encouraging people to steal multiple items at a time instead of one or two.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during a meeting with representatives of the nighttime economy in central London, while on the General Election campaign trail. Picture date: Saturday June 22, 2024.
'We’ll always support shopkeepers to prevent theft,' Rishi Sunak said. (Alamy)

A recent report by the London School of Economics (LSE) shows a clear link between a 10% rise in the cost of living and increases in violence, robberies, shoplifting, burglary and theft over the past year.

The study points to previous academic literature which suggests a link between economic hardship and crime, although it acknowledges the relationship is complex and multifaceted".

It found that with a 10% rise in living costs, there was an 8% increase in crimes including burglary and theft and some violent offences.

However, the study pointed out that while there appeared to be a correlation between the cost of living and these crimes, this is not the same thing as causation.

It found that some crimes, including antisocial behaviour offences, had fallen, and that there had been an overall a 2.4% decrease in calls to the police.

Referencing the study in March 2024 as he called on the government to tackle the root causes of crime head-on, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “The causes of crime are complex. But the overall formula is pretty simple: Too much inequality and too little opportunity produces criminality.

"That’s not – and nor should it ever be – a justification for criminal behaviour. If you break the law of course you should pay the consequences. Nor does it imply that all those in poverty turn to criminal behaviour.

"But if we want to be sincere about making our city safer, we need to be serious about crime prevention. That begins with acknowledging that no one just wakes up in the morning and – out of nowhere – harms another person with a knife or steals a car… joins a criminal gang or breaks into someone’s home. The clock begins ticking long before the crime is committed."

In January 2024, policing minister Chris Philp said inflation was “no excuse at all” for people to resort to crime, telling Sky News: “We have a very generous benefits system. We are spending well over £100 billion a year on working age benefits. They went up by 10% in April this year.

"They are going up by another six or seven per cent in April. The national minimum wage is going to go up by 10%. There is no excuse at all for any criminal activity including shoplifting.”

However, according to the Big Issue, his claims don't stand up to examination. Pointing to research by the Trussell Trust and Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), Universal Credit claimants were on average £35 a week short of the money they needed for essentials like food and heating.

The findings, based on conservative estimates, found that a single person needs around £120 per week to cover essentials before housing costs, but would only receive £85 each week on universal credit.

Benefits were set to increase by 6.7% under measures announced in April, although 180,000 claimants working less than half of a full-time week will be required to look for more work in an attempt to get people off welfare.

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