Will spies be hiding in supermarket aisles?

Counter Point by Scott Freeman

There is a fine line between compassionate concern and intrusion.

I did a double-take on Monday when I read that Sainsbury’s checkout staff were to be trained to spot ‘hidden carers’ – those people who selflessly help family and friends too sick or disabled to do their own shopping.

Apparently it’s not difficult. People who split their shopping into two piles at the till and pay for them separately are prime candidates, apparently, as are those who exhibit other ‘unusual’ shopping habits.

The purpose of this approach is admirable; ensuring that those supporting the less fortunate members of society receive the benefits to which they are entitled.

But I am most uncomfortable about this latest example of the Coalition’s Big Society initiative – or BS as it is known in the Freeman household.

What can we expect next?

Supermarket spies who inspect our trolleys to see if we are buying an unacceptably large number of saturated fat-laden convenience foods and then report us to the health stasi?

Will anyone purchasing more than the safe limit of table wine being quizzed about their drinking habits and enlisted on a low-alcohol awareness course?

The natural conclusion of all this is that fat people will be taken to one side to be ‘educated’ into finding a healthy alternative for the fizzy drinks, crisps and chocolate bars they have chosen to buy.

What about shabbily-dressed people who are buying the supermarket’s ‘Finest’ steaks and organic vegetables rather than the store’s ‘Basics’ range and sell-by-date reduction? Perhaps they are benefit cheats and should be reported.

The options for state-sponsored interference in our lives are almost endless.

One permutation I suspect we won’t see introduced by this – or any future government – would be to recruit retailers of super-luxury goods to identify people who clearly have an excess of disposable income who could be paying more tax.

BS as I said.