What is “essential” shopping and who decides?

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What is “essential” shopping and who decides?

With increasing coronavirus restrictions everywhere, it is easy to see how people are getting frustrated. Guidance is ever changing and, often, not entirely logical or practical.

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Earlier this week a shopper was seen tearing the plastic wrapping off of children’s clothes in Tesco in Wales in a rage over their classification as “non-essential goods”. Surely many people would agree that buying new, warmer, clothes for their children going into the winter months is not only essential but fundamental.

A review of the UK Government’s website states that you can go to the shops for “food and other essentials” however, nowhere on the site is there a definitive list as to what constitutes “essential”.

In this instance, it would seem to stand that it is up to the public to use “common sense” when deciding on what is allowed as essential, however, with every individual having different life priorities, it stands to reason that “essential” would be different for everyone.


Furthermore, every supermarket chain, stores and corner shop will have different ideas about what is essential to their customer base which would see some items for sale in one environment but not in others.

An article published by the MEN listed the following questions to be considered when shopping for “essentials”:


Is it urgent?

Will it significantly impact my quality of life or risk my health and wellbeing if you don’t have it?

Can I buy it online?

Will I be putting others at risk by going to buy it?

They seem like a reasonable list of questions to consider however further highlights that these decisions are truly open to subjectivity on the part of the buyer.

Ultimately, if the government expects the public to follow the guidance to the letter … then the letters need to be written.


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