Saturday, December 27, 2014

Community supermarkets-Can they make a difference to the poor in India?

Poverty by far is the most ignominious paradox that divides people and nations on economic criteria. Hunger, in turn is related to poverty and food security and nutrition security for every one in this planet cannot be possible unless the people are economically "empowered". While socialism talks about the welfare of the entire society through wealth distribution and equity, capitalism lays more stress on individual entrepreneurship and enterprise to create wealth at individual level. The latter system therefore invariably concentrates wealth in a few people considered brilliant and influential in the society, leaving far behind a majority of population with income levels varying from high to middle to poor, the last category never able to meet both ends their dreary life. There are various safety net works tried in different countries to ensure inclusive economic growth but most of these schemes end up as "doling out" practices which cannot help these unfortunate people in the long run. Whether soup kitchens or similar feeding programs they provide only temporary succor to the poor without looking at the root of the problem. One such experiment being tried out in the UK seems to be very interesting, though it depends on the charitable bend of mind on the part of the big retailing industry. Read further below.  

"Britain's first "community supermarket" opens for business today, allowing hundreds of struggling families to buy surplus food donated by shops including Marks & Spencer and Ocado at 70 per cent discount – with 20 more planned across the country. The Community Shop, in Lambeth, south London, will sell low-cost, high-quality surplus food to residents on income support while helping them back into work. The store will work on a membership basis, with 750 members who must live locally and be on income support. They must also enrol on a tailored professional development programme – called The Success Plan – which aims to improve their confidence and help them find jobs. The scheme, the first of its kind in the UK, is backed by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. The food donated by supermarkets – which  may have been over-ordered, mislabelled, or come in damaged packaging – may otherwise have gone to landfill or been fed to animals.  The London branch marks the start of the national roll-out programme after the success of a pilot store, which opened in Goldthorpe, South Yorkshire, in December last year. One in five of this store's 500 members who completed their training have already found work. It is the first of a planned 20 stores across the country, which aim to help about 20,000 people nationwide. This model of using unwanted supermarket stock to tackle food poverty was highlighted by the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the United Kingdom in its Feeding Britain report as one that should be developed to "make a real and positive difference to people's living standards". John Marren, chairman of Company Shop, which runs the scheme, said: "Community Shop is tackling the problem of surplus food, whilst giving it real social purpose. "Not only do we offer high-quality, low-cost food to people experiencing tough times, but we provide them with the chance to take up support services because they are motivated to do better." Retailers and manufacturers taking part in the scheme include Marks & Spencer, Asda, Tesco, Morrisons, The Co-operative, Ocado, Innocent, Brake Brothers, NestlĂ© and Muller. Participants will be given a mentor who will help identify which areas of their lives they need to work on and then agree on a plan to improve their lives. Courses include confidence-building, home-budgeting and writing a CV. These services will be funded by the sale of the food. It is estimated that around 3.5m tonnes of food is wasted every year in the UK, before it even reaches people's shopping basket. About 10 per cent is good enough to be eaten." 

By creating a community supermarket the organizers are trying to help poor families in buying their daily requirements for sustenance at low prices and as such it is a welcome initiative. As long as the quality of food offered in these markets are on par with those in regular supermarkets, there should not be any worry regarding any psychological impact it might have on the minds of these consumers. Still by branding them as community supermarket, an impression is given that they are meant only for poor people. Therefore it is for consideration whether such "distinction" can be avoided to make shopping in these places more honorable from the perspectives of those who are compelled by circumstances to shop there. Already there are distinct shopping centers like Waldi in the US where many products are available almost at half the cost compared to the prices prevalent in other supermarket chains like Walmart and Target. In India the Public Distribution System peddling essential commodities at low prices is the nearest relative to UK's community supermarket but the dreary environment and filthy shops which dispense the commodities are some thing no self respecting citizen would like to go but for his penury!. All said and done the new supermarkets under the brand name Community Supermarkets will herald a new chapter in the social justice practices in rich countries like the UK. Whether such initiatives are feasible and practical in other countries remains to be seen.


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