Shoplifting on the rise – Kerry writes for the Fishponds Voice September 2023
Recent reports have shown that shoplifting is on the rise, with a current estimated cost to UK retailers of almost £1 billion per year. In the last 12 months the police recorded 339,206 cases of shoplifting, of which just 48,218 resulted in charges. And it’s not just theft from shops that’s causing a headache for local shopkeepers.
The Co-op Group recently released data that shows retail crime, shoplifting and anti-social behaviour is at its highest level ever, with a 35% increase over the last year alone. Usdaw, the retail union, has long campaigned for better protection for shopworkers against assaults and abuse. Its most recent survey showed that three-quarters had suffered verbal abuse, half had been threatened by customers and 8% had been physically assaulted. As usual I’ll be supporting Usdaw’s Respect for Shopworkers Week later this year in Parliament.
We can draw our own conclusions as to why shoplifting is on the rise during a cost-of-living crisis, but it’s clear that this isn’t just about people struggling to make ends meet. Reports from across the country have shown that shops are being regularly vandalised, with employees beaten by criminals as they try to stop them fleeing, and in some cases members of staff even held at gunpoint.
Currently, shoplifting does not automatically lead to jail time. Under legislation brought in by the Conservatives in 2015, if the goods stolen are worth less than £200, the maximum sentence is six months in prison, but this is usually handled by issuing a postal fine of £70. If the goods are worth more, much higher penalties can be imposed.
I wouldn’t endorse sending more people to jail for low-value crimes – our prisons are bursting as it is, often with people who need help with addictions and mental health rather than incarceration, and it’s been shown that short sentences have little to no deterrent or rehabilitative effect – but I do think we need a tougher approach to halt the rise of shoplifting gangs. And of course, if there is violence involved, sentences should reflect that.
My colleague, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has said that Labour will put neighbourhood police back in our town centres to crack down on local shoplifting gangs and abuse. Shopworkers should not be left to deal with these appalling attacks alone. Usdaw has endorsed this, saying: “We welcome Labour’s Neighbourhood Policing Guarantee, which will bring 13,000 extra officers and PCSOs. We must also address the wider societal issues such as the cost-of-living crisis, addiction and mental health issues, which are driving up shoplifting.” As a former Labour leader once said: “Tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime.” That’s a mantra that still holds.