Weekly Shopping Bills

Last week I wrote about the local and European elections on 22 May. Now the votes are in (but not all announced), we’re into the phase of frantic spin by all parties explaining why the results were better, or less bad, than they were expecting.

A key issue in the post mortem of the elections and the campaigning was Ed Miliband’s inability to state his family’s weekly shopping bill. Other politicians are terrified of falling into the same trap, so are bringing their receipts, or at least a quotable figure, to interviews. I understand Eric Pickles’ shopping bill is £102.71 and Tim Farron’s is £180 for his family of four children. Setting aside the gimmicky nature of this subject, I object to it, because it is out of step with how people live today.

Ed Miliband is a married father of two who has a hugely absorbing job with long and varied hours, and his wife is a barrister who one can only presume works pretty hard. One, or both, of them will regularly find themselves travelling, staying away from home, or working early and / or late. Throw in the fact that they will spend many weekends in Ed’s constituency in Doncaster, and it makes for the sort of unstructured, busy and varied lifestyle that is increasingly common for professional people and indeed for those who work part-time or shifts, combine work and study, and juggle various commitments to their work, their communities and their families.

It’s people like this who are driving the growth of convenience store shopping, because they don’t just go to a big supermarket once a week, but they use a number of shops for a number of different needs. They might pop into a convenience store to pick up some essentials, they may eat out, or grab food on the go, eat at a friend’s house, visit a larger supermarket but also sit down for a meal while they are there, or use a number of specialists for fish, meat, fruit and vegetables or bread. Modern consumers don’t all have a single receipt for all their shopping in a week.

To be clear, I’m not seeing this as some sort of supermarket conspiracy or attack on local shops – it’s an easy journalistic device and to some extent Ed Miliband has made this bed for himself by talking about the cost of living crisis in such broad-brush terms. Nonetheless, the concept of a weekly shopping bill is rapidly becoming antiquated, and I wonder if future students of this small chapter of political history will understand what we were all on about.

This entry was posted by Victoria on Fri, 23/05/2014 - 14:14