Baby formula theft is rising - the internet responds - and for once I totally agree

The internet reacts to baby milk theft and it's spot on, to be fair

Baby Formula thef on rise
(Image credit: Getty images / Future)

Baby formula theft has risen in recent months, with many shops removing tubs from shelves, so parents have to ask for it at the till, in a bid to deter people from stealing it.

**disclaimer** I don't agree with stealing, and I don't agree with pricing parents out of life-preserving baby formula either. Choosing how to feed your own baby was once, not so long ago, a privilege for most mums. Researching all the breastfeeding tips you could find before, if you’re anything like me, realising it was too painful and your nipples were shredded, you just couldn’t get the hang of it, or maybe it didn’t fit your lifestyle. Opting instead to breast pump or maybe bottle feed; to take the financial hit and buy tin after tin of formula, sometimes twice a week, but not at an eye-watering price during a time when people are forced to choose between 'eating or heating'. 

The cost of infant formula has soared over the past year – with the price of the cheapest brand increasing by 22%, according to statistics from the British Pregnancy Advice Service. For me, buying baby formula was five years ago, and our chosen milk sold for £13 a tin, it's now on sale, at the time of writing this, for £18.50 - that's £2 more expensive than a bottle of Bell's Original Whisky (70cl), make it make sense.

While theft of formula isn't a new phenomenon, the rate at which it's rising is. Talking to The Guardian, Katherine O’Brien, a spokesperson for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said “Due to the soaring cost of infant formula, families experiencing food poverty are being forced to resort to unsafe feeding practices, including stretching out the time between feeds and giving their babies food which is not suitable, like porridge.” Well this, and stealing. And, even if a parent is able to access the cheapest brand, for example Aldi’s own label, the cash value of Healthy Start vouchers, £8.50 a week, is no longer enough to pay for the amount of infant formula needed to safely feed a baby in the first six months of their life. 

The Director of the UCL Institute of Health Equity Sir Michael Marmot told LBC's Andrew Marr that the current situation is a “national shame”. He said; “It's very rare that I weep when I read a newspaper article... but when I read... that some supermarkets were hiding baby formula, my blood ran cold... If people can’t afford to buy formula to feed their babies and infants - give it away!"

Across Twitter people share their experience of seeing empty formula tins on the shelves, with notes directing people to 'ask at the till'. One Twitter user posted an image showing just that - Cow & gate formula tub on the shelves with a rudimentary note saying 'Empty Tub. Please Take To the Tills'

One dad took to Twitter to share his experience, his post read; "In Catford, Aldi, today to grab some formula looked around and there wasn't any on the shelves, asked a worker and he advised 'They need to be requested at the till'. The state of this country is becoming clear for everyone to see."

The internet has spoken on reports from the BBC that Calpol and baby formula are most stolen, and for once I agree with everything 'they' are saying. Media news company Novaramedia curated a series of social posts on their instagram highlighting to their 143k followers the plight of many parents trying to navigate this cost of living crisis. 

Click on the arrows on the image to read through; 'this is how baby formula is packaged under capitalism', the second reads; '*taps TikTok mic* IF YOU SEE SOMEONE SHOPLIFTING BABY MEDICINE NO YOU DIDN'T!' While the third reads; 'If you see someone shoplifting anything for a baby, no you f***ing didn't'

One commenter writes: "As a former security guard, I can confirm that the baby milk formula has the highest theft rate. It is the most sought-after item on the shelves in Britain..." While another said; " if people have to choose between heating and eating the system is a failure and must be changed."

Okay, so there has been an increase in Child Benefit, but honestly? It really is but a drop in the ocean. Parents have seen not only the rise of nursery fees, with one mum friend telling me her daughter's had shot up by nearly £300 a month, but the cost of food shops have gone up as well as basic household bills, yet no rise in wages. All this while trying to nurture sick, and hungry babies. 

The post garnered over 193 comments and 4k likes, and you bet I was one of those likes because the messages they were sharing felt like solidarity. It's not about 'saying it's okay to shoplift' and if you're mad at that then you're not paying attention. It's about focusing on why these items are being shoplifted, the reality behind it, of scared parents trying to do their absolute best for their children in such unknown times. And I get it - I don't agree with stealing as a rule, obviously, but... If I see someone stealing baby formula in a supermarket, no I didn't.

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Stephanie Lowe
Family Editor

Stephanie Lowe is Family Editor at GoodToKnow covering all things parenting, pregnancy and more. She has over 13 years' experience as a digital journalist with a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to all things family and lifestyle. Stephanie lives in Kent with her husband and son, Ted. Just keeping on top of school emails/fund raisers/non-uniform days/packed lunches is her second full time job.