“People are stealing to eat”, warn supermarkets

“People are stealing to eat”, warn supermarkets

Tuna, olive oil and coffee among products fitted with alarms in Lisbon and Porto 

People are stealing to eat. It’s the stark reality of the ‘cost of living crisis’ in a country of already meagre salaries, and even smaller social benefits.

Says Expresso in today: The elderly and parents are being caught “more and more” by hypermarket security guards.

“There are many people who can no longer assure their basic food needs”, Rita Valadas, president of Cáritas (Catholic charity) tells the paper.

But Rita Valadas supplies just one of the quotes highlighted. 

“There is no doubt these are thefts to eat. This is the first symptom of a deep, social crisis”, president of the association of Portuguese distributors, Gonçalo Lobo Xavier, admits.

“People are desperate. They hide packets of milk and cans of tuna in their bags, or in their jackets – to consume themselves or give to their children”, says Cláudio Ferreira, president of the national association of private vigilance.

“We have caught a lot of old people trying to steal bread, sausages and tuna”, Edson Alves, a security guard in the Areosa supermarket, in Porto, adds.

Today’s feature is illustrated by photographs of ‘alarmed foodstuffs’ – the only solution supermarkets have found to deal with this ‘scourge’ effectively.

Salt cod, frozen salmon, bottles of olive oil, cans of tuna. For now it is these ‘luxury’ items that supermarkets are seeking to secure. This doesn’t mean people are only stealing luxury items. It means security guards have more time to watch ‘the basics’, like bread/ milk/ potatoes.

Edson Alves, 49, is clearly a security guard with a warm heart. He tells Expresso the situation is “very sad”; that he has frequently gone with the ‘stolen item’ that he has apprehended to the cash tills and paid for it himself, giving it to the ‘miscreant’ to take home.

Mothers he has found stealing have told him the food is for their children. “I end up telling them, I would prefer you to ask me. I am not rich, but I can help with something…”

Other sources, like those working in the Continente chain, add further items to the rogues gallery of ‘sought after goods’: coffee/ frozen octopus/ picanha (Brazilian steak).

Thefts have been increasing “over the last two to three months”, Expresso hears.

Cláudio Ferreira of the association of private security and vigilance dubs the increase “significant”. Those caught are “people who cannot survive on their salaries or pensions. They are desperate…” he says.

And although numbers show an increase in thefts reported to police, even this is just the tip of the iceberg. Policy these days is less and less to call in police as these are cases of ‘necessity’. Even professionals charged with security cannot bring themselves to make an awful situation even worse.

The real drama of this crisis is that inflation has not just affected food costs by the 9% or so given by ‘official statistics’. Its effect has been far, far deeper. Milk, for example, has ‘leapt 35% in price’; fish by 21%, meat 20%. The average price increase of foods generally has been running at 16.9%, explains Expresso. With “almost two million people living on less than €554 per month”, the consequences are easy to understand.

Expresso’s story has come out in the week the government’s ‘support to families’ was paid-out – a one-off cash payment to adults of €125, plus another €50 for each child. As everyone accepts, this is a drop in the ocean of people’s requirements. A very temporary lift that will evaporate almost the moment it arrives.

Charitable organisations like Cáritas/ Banco Alimentar Contra Fome are all receiving an increasing number of requests for help, to the point that the latter’s ‘emergency network’ is in danger of collapse. Teams “cannot get to everyone”, says Expresso – and the food hampers being distributed “are not enough to satisfy the basic needs of a family”.

The ‘old’ model of holding food drives in supermarkets is unlikely to work as almost every family today is struggling to pay rising costs. Thus plans are afoot.

Gonçalo Lobo Xavier, leading APED, the country’s association of distributors, explains: “We are thinking of a mechanism to help those most in need”.

He does not elaborate – it could clearly involve donating foods reaching sell-by dates; it could involve subsidies. The sector has made massive profits in recent months (particularly through the summer).

But supermarkets ‘coming to the rescue’ won’t cut this crisis. “It’s urgent that State help to families is increased”, says Expresso.

The government’s State Budget for next year comes up for debate in parliament next week. PS Socialists have said it is ‘well balanced’ and have also tried to suggest it is helping the vulnerable.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com