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Welsh supermarkets stop selling tampons, baby clothes and other “non-essentials”

They're following new rules that have come in with a country-wide lockdown.

On the 23rd October, Wales entered another national lockdown. People were told to stay home apart from ‘essential’ reasons, and all businesses deemed non-essential were ordered to close. Supermarkets, unsurprisingly, were exempt, given that everyone needs food to survive. However, because food shops usually stock lots of other stuff too, the Welsh government decided to limit the items they could sell. Non-essential items had to be taken off the shelves. That decision has caused confusion and a lot of controversy.

Part of the problem is that ‘essential’ is a subjective term. Different items are essential to different people at different times. For example, the sale of clothing was originally banned on the assumption that retail therapy is a frivolous activity. But of course having some clothing is essential, as one Welshman proved by showing up to his local supermarket in just his boxers (they refused him entry). The government added baby clothes to the essentials list after an outcry from parents who pointed out that small children keep growing, even in lockdowns. Other critics have argued that there are legitimate reasons people can suddenly find themselves desperate for new clothing - perhaps because they’ve fled an abusive home, or because a sudden turn in the weather requires a new item of warm clothing.

The Welsh government has tried to fix the problem by saying that supermarkets can make a judgement call on whether to sell a normally-restricted item to individuals in dire circumstances. But not everyone thinks this is a good enough solution. Tesco's has already had to apologise after it prevented a customer from buying sanitary products. Anecdotal stories on Twitter say other customers have been stopped from buying batteries for their smoke alarm or medical devices. Even things like books, games and toys could confer substantial mental health benefits, some say.

Regardless, the government says it won’t change the ban on non-essential sales. It wants both to keep the number of supermarket trips as low as possible and to protect the other shops that have been forced to shut from unfair competition. It may also be assuming that people will be able to turn to friends, neighbours or online next-day delivery in a pinch. While this is probably true for a majority of people, those that can’t do so - because they are isolated, say, and/or are not able to access an internet connection - are disproportionately likely to also be vulnerable in other ways.

Read our explainer on: consumption.

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