Politics

Keir Starmer: 'I'd offer to pay if I saw a parent shoplifting baby formula'

Labour leader Keir Starmer says he would take out his wallet to help a parent shoplifting baby food. Here's what other leaders said

Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, and Bridget Phillipson, Shadow Education Secretary, speak to parents during a visit to Nursery Hill Primary School, in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. Credit: Kier Starmer Flickr

Keir Starmer has pledged to be as “bold as Clement Attlee” if he becomes prime minister – and claims he’d take out his wallet to help a parent shoplifting baby food.

Some 3.8 million Brits currently live in destitution, including one million children – a situation that is pushing parents to increasingly desperate measures.

Less than two weeks out from the general election, the Big Issue grilled the party leaders on what they would do if they saw a parent “clearly in need” stealing baby formula.

Starmer and the SNP’s John Swinney both said they’d pay for it, while Conservative prime minister Rishi Sunak and Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said they’d point to other cost of living support.

“I’d offer to pay it,” Keir Starmer told the Big Issue. “The desperation of families around the country should make the Tories feel nothing but shame.”

“Of course, shoplifting is a problem for businesses, so we’d have 13,000 more neighbourhood police to provide reassurance on our high streets. But we’d also change the rules so people could use food bank vouchers and loyalty card points to buy baby formula.”

Prime minister Rishi Sunak disagreed, telling us: “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.”

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

Meanwhile, SNP leader and Scottish first minister John Swinney, added: “I’d discreetly offer to pay 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.”

Extreme poverty is driving up shoplifting across the UK. The British Retail Consortium said there were around eight million incidents in the 12 months to March 2023. Police recorded 339,206 cases in the same period, a 24% increase on the previous year.

Earlier this year, the Big Issue sparked a national debate after asking Sadiq Khan the same question. The Labour London mayor said he hadn’t seen it happen, “but in the hypothetical case, I suspect I’d l take my wallet out, and I would pay for it.”

If the Labour Party wins the upcoming general election, it will have to tackle soaring destitution across the country. Keir Starmer has promised that his party – currently enjoying a massive poll lead – would not oversee a program of ‘austerity-lite’ in government.

“I’ll be as bold as Attlee,” he told the Big Issue. “I ran a public service during austerity, I saw the impact of the Tories’ decisions. There will be no return to austerity with a Labour government. We’ll have a decade of national renewal instead, with ambitious investment and reform.”

Clement Attlee led the Labour party to victory at the 1945 general election. His administration was instrumental in establishing the National Health Service and other key elements of the welfare state.

To read the Big Issue’s leader interviews in full, buy this week’s Big Issue.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? Get in touch and tell us more. Big Issue exists to give homeless and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy of the magazine or get the app from the App Store or Google Play.

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