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Bishop David Walker - 22/01/2024

Bishop David first shared this Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4 at 7.45am on 22nd January 2024.

Good morning, 

“20% off” scream the signs on the supermarket shelves. Yet, a newly published report from the consumer organisation Which, suggests today’s most significant reductions may not be in what we pay but what we get. From teabags to toothpaste, the same product at the same price can conceal a radical reduction in value for money. Manufacturers, selling their products in smaller packets, or reducing expensive ingredients, defend the changes. To them, it’s about keeping prices down, at a time when their own costs have seen rapid inflation. They can point to the fact that the smaller weight or cheaper contents are printed, as law requires, on the packaging. But I’ve yet to see such changes drawn to my attention, certainly not with the prominence given to price drops.

And there lies the rub. If I’m to be an informed purchaser, it’s important not just that all the facts and figures are there, but that those matters a purchaser might be expected to want to weigh most heavily, if you’ll pardon the pun, are drawn to my attention; even if they run counter to marketing strategy. And especially when they amount to significant change.

The challenge to trade fairly is no new phenomenon. “You shall not cheat in measuring length, weight, or quantity. You shall have honest balances, honest weights”, says the Book of Leviticus, one of the earliest writings in the Hebrew Scriptures. Indeed most major faith traditions are focussed as much on how we live good and godly lives in society here and now, as they are on matters of eternity. Religions recognise that societies function best when levels of trust are high. Hence they seek to provide a framework in which virtues, such as honesty and openness, can flourish. The fact that many religious institutions themselves fall short on matters of openness and honesty does not detract from the task, it drives home the challenge human nature - original sin some might say – presents.

Beyond comparing the merits and measures of brands of butter, many of us, in Britain and beyond, will be invited to choose between competing political brands in 2024. I would argue the same principles apply. Here the forensic analysis of rival offers will be carried out for us not by consumer organisations but through the professional work of journalists. And just as we laud those members of the press who bravely travel to theatres of war, helping us glimpse reality beyond the rhetoric of the protagonists, so we will rely on those, including on this programme, who put the hard questions the politicians don’t want to answer, and who keep on asking them, on our behalf, even in the face of bombast or bluster.

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