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Age Concern calls for prices inquiry

Stagnant salaries and rising living costs are the real reasons why many poorer residents cannot afford groceries, a community advocate has claimed.

Sheelagh Cooper from the Coalition for the Protection of Children spoke after The Royal Gazette revealed yesterday that lower-income families were being priced out of supermarket shopping.

A Royal Gazette article from July 2008 painted a far sunnier picture — studying the cost of a typical grocery list at Lindo's, The MarketPlace and Supermart supermarkets.

It stated: “While food prices are soaring across the world, it appears that Bermuda stores are helping customers by keeping prices low, and in some instances dropping them.”

Last Thursday, we visited the same three supermarkets and selected five staple items from the list — milk, cheese, bread, broccoli and apples — to compare their 2008 and 2016 costs.

The investigation revealed a 25.17 per cent price rise at Lindo's ($24.51 to $30.68), a 25.5 per cent rise at The MarketPlace ($24.07 to $30.21) and a 16.69 per cent rise at Supermart ($25.03 to $29.21). In line with this hike, charities offering food assistance initiatives have reported spiralling demands upon their services year-on-year.

Major Frank Pittman, divisional commander of The Salvation Army, said that the organisation's weekday evening feeding programme had swelled considerably in recent times, welcoming up to 100 hungry people a day in Hamilton.

Nesi Armstrong, founder of Facebook donation group Free Food Bermuda, also spoke of her “ever-growing” list of low-income residents seeking help, while criticising those who place profit margins above all else.

Claudette Fleming, executive director of seniors advocacy group Age Concern, called for an inquiry on how supermarkets reach their price points.

“I know that when people come to visit, they're astounded by the prices that we pay for food,” she said.

“I also know there are a lot of families who cite the price of food as one of the reasons they leave the island.

“What is driving up the costs? Work must be done on the exact nature of that issue, but it has to be done objectively because it can be a very emotive subject.”

However, Mrs Cooper argued that unacceptably low salaries among the bottom quartile of Bermuda's population presented a more pertinent problem than supermarket price levels.

She said: “The cost of living has crept up significantly, but the wages in this community have actually dropped. Accounting for inflation, they're significantly lower than they were 30 years ago.

“I've had conversations with all the big grocery stores and, unfortunately, they don't have the capacity to drastically reduce their prices.

“Realistically, Government cannot control the prices at the supermarket. It can, however, introduce a minimum wage.”

• For graphic, click on PDF link under related media.

Claudette Fleming, executive director of seniors advocacy group Age Concern

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Published February 16, 2016 at 8:00 am (Updated February 16, 2016 at 6:36 am)

Age Concern calls for prices inquiry

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