OPINION: Impoverished by fight to buy

Lisa Harker, chair of the Daycare Trust but writes in a personal capacity

I have to admit I didn't feel good about Christmas shopping last Saturday, on what had been designated Buy Nothing Day by anti-consumerist campaigners.

I resolved to hold my very own no-shopping day the following weekend, but I doubt my personal stand will have much effect. Nor did last week's protest - not many were deterred from the High Street. When it comes to campaigning against over-consumption, self-denial doesn't seem to be a very successful tactic.

The same might be said for the latest campaigning fad against supermarket waste. Incensed that an astonishing 5 per cent of food stored in supermarkets never reaches the kitchen table, with tonnes of produce past its sell-by date chucked out each week, a group of (reasonably well-off) people have taken to rummaging through supermarket bins. The 'freegans' claim they can practically live off the food that never even gets as far as the checkout.

While I share the outrage, this kind of risky (not to mention unlawful) self-denial isn't the answer to over production. The only way to reduce wasted food is to stop selling so much in the first place. But there's the rub. Consumer power is pretty feeble when it comes to stemming excess.

And at no other time of year is this more apparent. In the run-up to Christmas, we are bombarded by images of plenty and encouraged to spend more than we can afford on things that we don't need, while all around us there is evidence that we are not spending enough on the things that matter. Standing on the platform waiting for my train to take me home after my shopping spree, it was hard not to be struck by the absurdity of our collective acceptance of public squalor, and our seduction by private affluence.

We like to think that the individual choices we enjoy as consumers should not be constrained by collective needs. But when it comes down to it there's more support for Christmas presents than for raising taxes, even if the latter would make all our lives a whole lot better. Consumerism isn't very good for us. It's just not very seasonal to admit it.

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