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Wednesday, 27 September, 2000, 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK
Why do we panic buy?

The British public rushed to the petrol pumps again after unfounded rumours about further blockades started circulating.

Queues of up to a mile long built up at some petrol stations around the UK and the government, police and oil companies were forced to appeal for calm.

What do you think is at the root of these outbreaks of panic buying?

Do you think the public is being irrational? Does it show a lack of trust in the government? Or is it the currently uncertain climate that has given motorists the jitters?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Why? Because too many people in Britain are thick, lazy and selfish.
Simon, UK

A greedy and selfish attitude

Tez, UK
A greedy and selfish attitude shows itself at times of 'panic-buying' at the slightest opportunity. It says something of the nature of these people. At the slightest sign of such intentions, Supermarkets should 'ration'.
Tez, UK

Not only are we selfish with an air of pull the ladder up Jack I'm alright, but we are also have become very gullible. We believe anything the media say and take it as gospel. Come on Britain think for yourself for once. Can't you see that by panic buying you are just playing into the hands of people who are committing economic terrorism? The way forward is to negotiate and compromise. Look at past disputes in this country. How have they been solved - by talking and not panicking.
Ian, UK

Having witnessed the disgusting displays of greed and selfishness of a large proportion of the population and their complete lack of concern about the negative effects of car use, I have decided to no longer donate blood as I do not see why such selfish people should benefit from other people's selfless acts.
Philip Jeremy, UK

I'd hardly call squirrels panic buyers; after all thousands of years of evolution have told them that there are no nuts all winter

Martin, UK
Was it Men In Black where Tommy Lee Jones said "No, individuals are smart, but people are stupid?" I never thought I'd take "that" film seriously.
As has been said, as soon as people see others panic buying, they do it themselves, because they want to be sure that they have enough for them. Oh, and I'd hardly call squirrels panic buyers; after all thousands of years of evolution have told them that there are no nuts all winter.
Martin, UK

Panic buying is nothing new. In the seventies (1973-4) there was a rumour of a sugar shortage and everybody bought sugar in ludicrous amounts and caused a major shortage, and naturally the price of sugar went up. I have used the same pencil for over ten years I saw people buying a dozen at a time and I laughed myself sick. Oh yes, the reason, it is very simple most people are selfish!
Andrew Allen, UK

I am horrified to think that all over the UK (and Europe) people will be hoarding supplies of petrol in their homes. How many fatal house fires might we have over the coming weeks. Governments should warn people of the danger and take steps to prevent risks through unsuitable storage of this explosive substance. E.g. a ban on storing petrol within households (only outbuildings or garages). Why not screen 'public information' adverts on TV as used to happen?
Emma, UK

I agree with the comment that had "GET A LIFE" in it! I wonder what proportion of the panic buyers wanted only a gallon or two. I genuinely needed petrol earlier in the week but refused to queue along with the rest of the sheep. Some people really NEED petrol, fine, but I suspect the rest weren't thinking clearly.
Tony, UK

We have grown up learning how to waste

E. Ward, UK
We panic buy in this country because we have been pampered for so long, with pre-packaged food and supermarkets, that Mrs Bloggs has forgotten how to make the food in her cupboard last or how to walk from one counter to another without a trolley. It's not just at times like these, but look at Christmas: the supermarkets close for two days, but people panic and buy far more than they are going to eat. We have grown up learning how to waste.
E. Ward, UK

If it only takes 6 people to shut down the deliveries from an oil refinery, then is it any wonder people rush to stock up on fuel??
Dan Norcott, UK

This is what Margaret Thatcher did for our country - turn us all into a bunch of spiteful, spoilt, ungrateful children who don't care about anyone else but themselves. Thanks a lot, Maggie.
Nick, UK

There is more upheaval and instability in our lives - pressure at work, family and love life. This increased paranoia and pressures of modern-day life all contribute to panic buying.
Emily McCauley, Northern Ireland

Years of an advertising society has educated people to link happiness with consumption. In reality petrol is a limited commodity and will firstly get much more expensive, and then become unavailable. Global warming is happening now as a result of this over consumption of fuel. The societies that can adjust to less dependence on oil will survive with a reasonable standard of living, those that panic and vote any sensible government out that will not satisfy their craving for more and more cars, will destroy themselves. We need a government who will invest seriously in public transport, so that sensible people have a real alternative to using their cars.
David Yates, UK

The blame for all this confusion and panic buying must lie solely at the door of this inept Government and their pathetic attempts to run this country. At last the people have woken up to the fact that this Government cannot be trusted.
Wendy Hodges, NI, UK

After seeing the empty shelves and hearing about fights at garages last week I too wonder what would happen in a war situation. These days if just one bomb landed on this country the rest of us would kill each other over the last tin of beans. I wasn't around for WW2 but the images of the "spiv" from programmes made about that period seem to show that (British) human nature hasn't improved much in the last 50 years.
Mike H, Bristol, England

Thatcher taught the British to be more selfish than we'd previously been, and now we are reaping the whirlwind

M.S., UK
Thatcher taught the British to be more selfish than we'd previously been, and now we are reaping the whirlwind. The challenge for Blair, the Labour and Liberal parties and others is to try to shift the agenda, and help us reclaim what we've lost. Unfortunately, it seems the people of Britain aren't much interested in that message.
M.S., UK

Squirrels "panic buy" nuts every winter. It's natural to hoard something you think will be in short supply soon and I don't think we should sneer at it. Furthermore when a government tells people not to panic buy, that's when you know you had better do it quick!
Godfrey Joseph, UK

If Karl Marx was alive today he would be sighing and nodding with not a little self satisfaction
Andy, UK

Those people who think it selfish would never let themselves starve 'for the community' and those people who think it irrational have no idea about the nature of living things. They are being more than a little hypocritical.
Judith, England

Probably because they have nothing better to do now that Big Brother has finished. I don't indulge in headless chicken impressions at the supermarket myself, but I have gained a certain degree of harmless entertainment form speculating what that elderly couple in Waitrose are going to do with six gallons of full-fat milk when the shelves are full again tomorrow!
Guy Chapman, UK

We queue because we enjoy the excitement. I have never seen people more animated than they were last week, it was all good fun and not really that serious.
Peter, England

I think that we are all slaves to the oil producing countries. It is frightening the power they have over us and I think we panic buy because we are afraid of losing our comfortable way of life.
Simon, USA

The term is unfairly pejorative - it's not panicking, it's planning ahead. It's a reasonable 'survival' response.
Graeme Duckworth, England

Why do people panic buy? Why do they listen to the Spice Girls and Robbie Williams? Why do they watch Eastenders and Big Brother? Why do they eat McDonalds? Why do they support Manchester United? Why do they read The Sun? Why do they make loud phone calls on the train or bus? Why do they rush to the bar for last orders? I think all these questions have the same answer but I'll let you work it out.
Jonathan Mayberry, UK

It has little to do with selfishness and everything to do with the fact that petrol and diesel are the lifeblood of the economy

David K, England
It has little to do with selfishness and everything to do with the fact that petrol and diesel are the lifeblood of the economy, the public services, the food chain and our social lives. By treating them as luxury products, to be taxed to the hilt because we have no choice but to use them, is to commit economic suicide.
The USA has cheap fuel and the strongest economy on earth. Are the two things related, I wonder?
David K, England

Let's face it, in times of crisis, people comfort themselves by doing what feels safe and familiar.
In the case of us Brits, that means joining the nearest queue!
Bruce Freshwater, Scotland, UK

Do people really think that the average Joe will starve in this country if he can't make it to the shops for one day?

Siobhan, UK
I had to queue for a short time on Sunday to get petrol for a long journey I expect to make on Friday. Ahead of me in the queue a guy in a massive 2-litre family saloon car added about 6 of petrol to top up his enormous monster machine. In the face of such stupidity and selfishness, it's no wonder people resort to panic buying.
My car gets used for essential journeys only, mostly at weekends. That guy just wanted a full tank so someone else could go without - his journey to the petrol station probably used the 6 he filled it with. I couldn't believe the panic buying in supermarkets last week. Do people really think that the average Joe will starve in this country if he can't make it to the shops for one day? It's ludicrous and sheer stupidity. Once again my faith in the state of the nation was severely rocked.
Siobhan, UK

I filled up with fuel yesterday. Not because I do not trust the government, but because I do not trust the selfish people who blockade the refineries and the oil companies who let them. If the government was to drop tax by 10p per litre, the oil companies would immediately add 3p back. No wonder they are happy to keep things going.
S Ward, UK

What an unfortunate bunch of people! I really have far better things to do with my time than hanging around outside petrol stations waiting to buy petrol I don't need. GET A LIFE! Or at least some common sense.
Jo Hansell, UK

We are simply trying to preserve our quality of life and function as normal

Carla, UK
I don't believe that we panic buy because we are selfish and irrational, but because we are worried and because we are forced to. We are simply trying to preserve our quality of life and function as normal, because we fear changes and disruptions to our routines.
I know that my primary concern was being able to take a close friend to regular radiotherapy sessions (which are harrowing enough) in comfort, instead of travelling on overcrowded, uncomfortable and unreliable public transport ... which is another issue altogether.
Carla, UK

It's not a case of 'panic buying'. It's a case of getting it all before anyone else does. It's a typical English way of thinking and to be honest it's pretty sad.
Dave, UK

Survival of the fittest!!
Everyone has experienced the times of going without and will do whatever is necessary to avoid those times again. No one knew how long the fuel crisis would last and it is obvious that those who had the fuel would have been at a clear advantage compared to others, whether this could be used for financial gain or not.
When it is simply a free for all and no order (e.g. rationing) then if you don't take it someone else will.
Mark Hull, UK

This panic buying is a national disgrace. As a nation we have become so selfish and irrational that, if the equivalent of the Second World War happened now, we would immediately cave in to whichever side promised us the biggest lollypop.
Catherine, UK

Whatever happened to Britain's much vaunted Dunkirk Spirit?

John, Canada
People who rush out to buy and hoard items and deprive their neighbours are clearly greedy, selfish, stupid, lazy morons. Whatever happened to Britain's much vaunted Dunkirk Spirit?
John, Canada

Don't forget that a number of people in the queues were people who desperately needed petrol because they hadn't been able to get any during the previous week. Not everyone was buying to top up - some were buying to put just something in their tanks.
Mark Kreissl, UK

Panic buying and other forms of mob behaviour can be explained by standard theories of group behaviour (as taught to 1st year psychology undergraduates). Experimental evidence suggests human beings exhibit 'herdlike' behaviour when faced with uncertainties. The 'herdlike' choices are made subconsciously - the mechanisms that cause this behaviour are not known, but some speculate that hormonal/pheremonal effects may be an influence
Gareth Wilson, UK

Yesterday's panic might have been partly averted if more information had been available

Rob Williams, UK
Yesterday's panic might have been partly averted if more information had been available. I heard the rumours but tried to get some idea as to whether or not they were true from several of the news websites including this one. I could find nothing.
A colleague of mine with no petrol decided to go and get some. When he returned, he told me that the petrol station staff knew nothing. By the end of yesterday afternoon, someone should have been able to refute the rumours.
Rob Williams, UK

I wonder how many stale loaves and sour bottles of milk have been thrown away in the last few days. What a waste!
David Evans, Wales

Why do we panic buy? Because we realise that our fragile society is only ever a few short days from breakdown and disaster.
Clive Mitchell, UK

This is surely just a sophisticated expression of a basic survival instinct

Robin, UK
People will always panic buy when they feel their security threatened, whether it be milk, loo rolls or petrol. This is surely just a sophisticated expression of a basic survival instinct. Selfish, or even stupid, it may be, but very easy to understand. Trust in the Government etc, has little to do with it, frankly.
Robin, UK

I only had half a tank of petrol when the first fuel crisis happened and didn't panic buy then because I figured that there would be other people more desperate than myself. A week and a half later and I need petrol at a normal time but I cant get any because of all of the panic buying. But hey, I'll get the train if need be. British people are greedy and selfish and only think of themselves and like another person said, it makes me ashamed to be British.
Mrs S, UK

People panic buy because they are insecure. During the petrol blockades people didn't know when fuel would next be available and so bought fuel that they wouldn't need for weeks to come. At Christmas people buy in far too much food because they think the shops will sell out. House buyers in London pay way over the odds for property because they fear that if they wait they will not be able to afford it. Given the laws of supply and demand these become self-fulfilling prophecies. So if you don't want people to panic buy, don't give them anything to panic about.
Rod Maxwell, Scotland

During the War the British public used to join a queue if they saw one, despite not knowing what they were queuing for

Matt, UK
During the War the British public used to join a queue if they saw one, despite not knowing what they were queuing for. They assumed that if other people were willing to wait in line for something, then it must be worthwhile and join themselves. I think it's something that is part of the British culture, and has been for a long time.
Matt, UK

It's not the Government that people don't trust, it's each other. We all know that panic buying contributes to the shortages, but we also all know that it's going to happen so we rush off to make sure that it's someone else who suffers. It's unfortunate, but it's deep-seated human nature.
Tom Rees, UK

Today's society has become so materialistic and 'urbanomic' that people now have an inherent fear of going without anything. The recent crisis just goes to show how fearful people have become of not getting what they want when they want! It also shows the selfishness that is growing throughout the developed world, as people hoard supplies without thinking about others at all!
Ben Harvey, UK

Citizens throughout the world don't trust their politicians regardless of party tickets. Once they are in power, it's business as usual.
Fermin F. Torres, New Mexico, USA

I joined the petrol queue because it was irrelevant whether the rumours were true or false: people were behaving as if they were true! It was a question of filling up before the pumps ran dry again.
John, UK

We panic buy for the same reason that we reacted with exaggerated grief to the death of Princess Diana, and the same reason that a bunch of normal, and in some cases quite unpleasant people, were made stars by "Big Brother".
Dan V, UK

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in which I have served as a lay bishop, has been advising its members since the 1930s to store food and other essential commodities as a hedge against shortage, so panic buying is not an issue for us. However, the sophisticated Western economies are highly dependent upon a profit-driven "just-in-time" re-supply chain that is extremely vulnerable to interruption of distribution. Panic buying of essential commodities is the inevitable consequence of these precarious logistics.
Chris Klein, UK

The reality is that we all need fuel to continue to operate normally

Iain B, UK
Fuel ran out very quickly after the crisis started. It was only because I was lucky enough to have filled up the night before that I was able to get to work during the crisis. When I heard about the rumour yesterday, I made sure my car was full of petrol. As I live in a rural area this is the only way that I can ensure that I can get to work - there is no way that I am going to sit back and not buy petrol in case it isn't true. The reality is that we all need fuel to continue to operate normally and until adequate public transport or alternative fuel sources are widely available this is not going to change.
Iain B, UK

The current fuel crisis has really shown how people's selfish instincts take over in a crisis. Everyone seems to look out for themselves and there is no thought as to whether what they are doing is good for the community or not.
Michael, UK

The panic buying that we are seeing is the product of a total lack of trust between the people and the Government, and also a selfishness that is fuelled by living in a capitalist economy. Survival of the fittest is taught from school onwards and now we are seeing the pathetic and selfish effects of it. Many people are panic buying because if they can't get to their jobs, they won't know what to do in their spare time, as apart from their jobs they have NO LIFE.
Farhan, UK

I think history has proved that the public should never accept advice from the Government. From food safety to fuel shortages, they massage the truth to avoid a panic. If the public cannot rely on a single truthful source of information then it is always best to assume the worst. In this case, people assumed that petrol would not be available for weeks and so filled up their tanks. As far as fuel shortages go, had the Government simply acknowledged the problem and pledged to do something about it in the Budget then there might never have been a panic in the first place.
Paul R, UK

If the British public panic into buying simply on the premise of a game of Chinese whispers or small talk then I dread to think what the situation would be if we really were in the middle of an economic collapse or worse war. It's everyone for themselves. Everyone acts selfishly with no account for anyone else. I think that the Brits have lost their sense of fairplay. Blitz Spirit I think not!!!
Richard Medlycott, UK

You can't blame people being edgy right after a fuel crisis and an outlook at another one simply because a smiling government person says he's not going to bow down. I wonder why other countries did give in and the UK not, scared of losing a few pounds Blair?
Richard, UK

To be quite honest it makes me ashamed to be British

Richard Fewster, England
The panic buying episodes in many cases show the levels of greed, laziness and selfishness of many people in this country. The thought of having to walk instead of drive up the road to the paper shop or being without their everyday food luxuries is something people don't seem to be able to handle.
To be quite honest it makes me ashamed to be British. If I was Tony Blair I'd resign the whole government and tell the people how sick he's become of governing a set of greedy people who don't care about anything outside their little sphere of comfort. This country deserves to have William Hague as Prime Minister.
Richard Fewster, England

We panic buy because we are inherently selfish, the calm approach for the common good will always come second. If we weren't selfish, we wouldn't object to the high fuel prices in the first place as it's good for the environment, encourages exercise, encourages public transport etc.
D Lewis, England

There is no cure for this, other than removing the reason for people to panic buy in the first place

Michael Pala, UK
It's a psychological phenomenon. If people perceive that there is going to be panic buying, then they will panic buy so that "they don't get affected". When a few people start, then everyone else joins in and you end up with a vicious circle. There is no cure for this, other than removing the reason for people to panic buy in the first place.
Michael Pala, UK

I think it's down to greed - people aren't prepared to just take what they need
Tim Collins, UK

The public's reaction is completely irrational. For the most part they drive around with part-filled tanks of fuel - which will usually last a week or two before needing to be refilled. But at the slightest hint of a shortage - they rush out to fill up.... without realising that it is exactly that behaviour that causes the worst of the shortages. Unfortunately we appear to live in a "Me First" society.
Noel Critchley, UK

Hoarding of fuel and food only makes the situation so much worse

Steven Green, UK
I am amazed that people do not behave more rationally when circumstances like this occur. In the shops there were people buying a dozen loaves of bread, and people at petrol stations were buying enough petrol to last them a month. Do these people really think that the protesters would let their own families suffer in such a manner? The government also would not be shy of sending in the police/army to clear away protesters if the country was running out of food and emergency services were running out of petrol.
The protestors stopped when they realised the country was running short on items that would be bad for themselves and their families, and if people stopped to think a bit then they would realise that the hoarding of fuel and food only makes the situation so much worse.
Steven Green, UK

Yesterday's round of panic buying could well have had a large element of "second guessing" to it. Several acquaintances listened to the plea to buy only the fuel they needed at the beginning of the crisis only to run out a few days later. Those that filled their tanks were still on the road all the "responsible" people have said they will not be caught out again.
Paul Geldart, UK

Why do we panic buy? ...because we are just a nation of softies and selfish....god forbid if we get into a war!
Mughal, UK

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See also:

20 Sep 00 | Wales
Careless talk costs litres
12 Sep 00 | Business
When buying spirals out of control
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