Earlier this evening, a friend of mine, like me both mobility impaired and with a very small child in the house, told me of an experience they had had during the course of the day, while out shopping for essentials in the west of Scotland's current wintry spell.
They had made their way, on foot, to the local 24 hour superstore operated by a household name supermarket chain. While there, they attempted to buy four loaves, two brown, two white. They were told by the checkout staff that they were only permitted to buy two loaves, in order to ensure that stock levels could be maintained for other customers while a delivery was awaited. They were advised that if they were unhappy with this, they should contact Customer Services.
This left my friend both bemused and confused. They had only attended the supermarket because their partner required to care for their aforementioned very small child. Their needs as a consumer, on the spot with money in their hand and a willingness to pay for goods, must, in an allegedly amoral market, surely over-ride any ersatz sense of 'corporate social responsibility', which in turn might merely be a mask to hide the supermarket's desire to sell customers other goods by reeling them in on a hook baited with the notion that they had bread in stock. Although it might have seemed selfish of them to seek to buy four loaves in one go, they have absolutely no idea when they'll be able to get out again. Indeed, for all that the supermarket knew, they might have been out buying for someone else.
The episode has left a very bad taste in their mouth, and I can fully understand why. There has been no announcement that the weather has been so severe that food rationing is being introduced; however no term other than food rationing is appropriate to describe the pantomime they found themself in earlier today. For most British city dwellers, supermarkets are the only places where they can not only buy food but which are also likely to be open at times when they can buy it. It is perfectly understandable that some people can be banned from entering them, if, for example, they are habitual shoplifters, or if they have stolen their long dead granny's loyalty card points, or whatever. However, my friend is a citizen in good standing, whose only crime has been spending what to them has been a great deal of money in that shop for some years. They do not expect to be told that they cannot buy something as mundane as two loaves of bread when they turn up at the checkout with them and have the funds to pay for them.
For supermarkets, for any shop owner, to be able to dictate on a whim that shoppers shall not be able to purchase goods which are in stock, and which they can pay for, will no doubt be claimed by the libertarians as a fundamental right of the Kommerzkaste more important than staying in business itself. Yet if a private entity can take to itself the right to ration bread today, what will it seek to ration tomorrow?
The private sector in Britain is too powerful. It needs to reform itself, before people decide to reform it.