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Government must act on suspected profiteering

‘In times of economic social stress, such as the one we’re currently living, Government must step in to help citizens and prevent excessive profit-taking,’ Equality Rights Group (ERG)/ Action on Poverty (AOP) has said.

‘We are writing to the Chief Minister expressing our concern at preliminary information we are receiving and which we shall in due course compile to monitor price rises on household goods and groceries in particular. The emerging study’s narrow market focus may not be an accurate reflection of wider trends throughout the marketplace, which could be overall higher or lower in the aggregate, given that attention is more closely noted in household products, with groceries particularly observed. The impacts may be broader than our initial reports indicate, and while we will assess the final data, it is clear that the level of concern now being expressed on this matter across different sectors of our community justify government intervention. At the very least, the high upward trend in the food sector is not only worrying, but widely felt by households, especially in light of falling purchasing power as wages fall behind. On retail pricing policy, the question is whether or not they can be justified in line with established economic indicators, or not.

‘Some of the product price hikes for which we have received preliminary information calculate at 20%, more than twice the rate understood for current inflation in Gibraltar. This points to rising questions regarding behaviour on the part of some entrepreneurs and distributors that should be looked into for determination. Nonetheless, in the absence of government action, monitoring will continue so as to establish a strong data pool. And we will cooperate with other social organisations in this regard.
‘Initial strategies tentatively observed in the groceries sector suggest a pivotal reliance on a very reduced set of a key basket of products comprised of leader items which attract consumer attention but act as a veil for price surges elsewhere in product ranges and which, at times, may not stand up to scrutiny in terms of economic justification.

‘Despite this, consumers are, nonetheless, noticing because there is no way to hide the final cost of routine shopping at the till. Profiteering is a suspicion word whose frequency has been increasing of late.

‘We are therefore requesting Government to take control to avoid what, to all intents and purposes may constitute unwarranted profit-taking surfing on the back of a crisis. A speedy and thorough Government investigation that will separate abuse from justification is needed for the public to be reassured that an increasing price feeding frenzy is not the order of the day.

‘We take note that in the UK, Tesco’s have led a campaign to push back on unjustified price hikes, and major brand names have had to curtail increases they could not credibly explain as a result. It is equally true that smaller producers are by no means immune from the temptation to increase prices beyond what can be properly justified.

‘The Gibraltar Government needs to step in urgently to demand reasonableness and self-control in order to put people’s minds at ease.

‘As Action on Poverty, we have been signalling our very real concern for the ‘behind closed curtains’ economic hardship that exists in Gibraltar. Despite our early hope for Government to deliver on a ‘budget for the poor’, to date, we have seen no substantial movement by Government to put into effect any adjustments that would make a difference. This is disappointing given the Chief Minister’s generous mention of ‘the vulnerable’ a full eleven times in his Budget speech .

‘Though we have been alerting to the impact of economic hardship for three years, it is becoming increasingly evident and clear that the circumstances we have been campaigning on since 2019 are running away beyond the previously most sensitive levels of our society (the vulnerable, the elderly, and the poor), and the indications are one of economic contagion towards a wider, creeping swathe of middle-of-the-road working people.

‘As ordinary working people begin to react, Government must fast get a grip on this situation. Unions, their members, and citizens’ humanitarian organisations are key in addressing the needs of the vulnerable in a just response to the accumulating difficulties facing them and ERG/AOP pledges its support.

‘A further detail in a complex pattern of related concerns is that as a result of changes to government’s medical prescriptions policy, a number of people (mainly but not exclusively elderly, housebound and with chronic pain) who previously received non-life-threatening medications to provide pain relief to mediate their quality of life are now being directed to purchase their own ‘over-the-counter’ products. This adds insult to injury as their economic situation is oftentimes vulnerable. No mechanism has as yet been announced to put promised mitigating Budget measures in place.

‘While over-medication and abuse is often cited as the reasoning behind the cut-backs in prescription policy, we have seen no hard evidence to suggest that the financial measures taken impacting this vulnerable sector of our population are, in fact, sufficiently supported by the available data to warrant the pain that is being visited upon these individuals.
‘Publication of the evidence would go some way to addressing this present absence of numbers.