There has been a 25 per cent increase in the number of shop theft incidents reported to the police in England and Wales over the last year, shows new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released today (19).
The figures from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) show a spike of incidents of shop theft to a total of 365,164 offences in the year ending June 2023.
Figures from the ACS Crime Report show that there were over 1.1 million incidents of theft recorded over the last year, with two thirds of those committing theft being repeat offenders. The most commonly stolen items as reported by retailers are meat, alcohol and confectionery – typically high value items that can then be sold on by those with a drug or alcohol addiction, or part of wider organised crime groups.
ACS chief executive James Lowman said, “Convenience retailers are facing unprecedented levels of theft against their businesses at the hands of prolific offenders who are targeting stores repeatedly without fear of reproach. These incidents take a huge toll on retailers and their colleagues, so it’s crucial that every incident reported to the police gets investigated.
“The official figures reported to the police, while rising, still represent a fraction of what’s actually happening on the ground. The vast majority of theft still goes unreported, as retailers are frustrated at the lack of response and follow up activity from their local police forces.”
The government has come under increasing pressure to tackle the rise in shoplifting, which has been blamed on the cost-of-living crisis and organised crime. Britain’s biggest force, the Metropolitan Police, have announced a rollout of facial recognition technology to target London’s most prolific offenders.
Reacting to the latest shoplifting figures, Paddy Lillis, Usdaw General Secretary said that shoplifting is not a victimless crime, theft from shops has long been a major flashpoint for violence and abuse against shopworkers.
“Having to deal with repeated and persistent shoplifters can cause issues beyond the theft itself like anxiety, fear and in some cases physical harm to retail workers. This 25 per cent increase in shoplifting is further evidence that we are facing an epidemic of retail crime, which is hugely concerning.
“Our members have reported that they are often faced with hardened career criminals in the stores and we know that retail workers are much more likely to be abused by those who are stealing to sell goods on. This week the Justice Secretary announced a softening of sentencing policy for what they regard as ‘low-level’ crimes, which could add to the impression that theft from shops has been decriminalised. Victims would be further distressed if violent shoplifters are not appropriately punished for the terror they reign in stores.
“Our annual survey found that three-quarters of retail workers suffered abuse from customers, with far too many experiencing threats and violence. Theft from shops and armed robbery were triggers for a third of these incidents. Particularly concerning is that just over half of those who did the survey said they were not confident that reporting these issues will make any difference.
“Labour has committed to give shopworkers ‘Freedom From Fear’ and deliver on our campaign objectives. Last week Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper committed the next Labour Government to: 13,000 more neighbourhood police with guaranteed patrols in town centres; Respect Orders to ban repeat offenders from town centres; a standalone offence for assaulting a worker serving the public and will end the £200 threshold for investigating and prosecuting shop theft.
“Usdaw is urging our members and the wider shopping public to sign a new House of Commons petition that seeks to protect retail workers from violence, threats and abuse by extending the Scottish protection of workers law to the rest of the UK. The Government has repeatedly blocked that, so this petition offers them a last chance before the election to take a step in the right direction.”