Shropshire Star

Shops and food banks brace for rise in 'desperate' thefts amid cost of living crisis

Shops and even food banks are preparing themselves for an increase in thefts this bank holiday as the cost of living crisis bites.

Tesc and ASDA put security alarms on cheese and Lurpak butter which now costs over £6

Inflation for groceries hit a record high in March, with the average family shop £69 more than last year, and retailers are making a direct correlation to shoplifting increasing.

BP Convenience Stores, which have outlets in Dudley, Wolverhampton and West Bromwich, is the latest retailer to blame the increase in shoplifting and abuse to staff on the cost of living crisis

Major supermarkets are now fitting security tags to essentials like milk, butter and cheese or investing in tamper proof cabinets previously only needed for meat, razors and alcohol. Greggs has responded to the wave of thefts by employing plain clothes security guards in its major outlets, including its branch in High Street, Birmingham.

Food banks have even become regular targets with food destined for the most vulnerable stolen, multiple needless claims and lifeline food packages being sold on Facebook Marketplace. Collection centres and churches, including Open Heaven Church, Wednesbury and Stratton Street Methodist Church, have also been ransacked for food.

Bilston food bank founder Guru Ji Singh is 78-years-old and “has never seen so many different people desperate” and is not surprised by the increase in shoplifting.

Foodbanker Guru Ji Singh takes precautions to stop theft

The veteran poverty campaigner now takes precautions to stop people stealing from or defrauding his food banks.

He said: “We are doing what we can but can’t do it all. We try and help those who are the most vulnerable, pensioners, blind, disabled, unemployed and striking nurses but if we did not stop them we would have people claiming free food when they don’t need it and even had users sell our food packages on Facebook. But I know people are desperate like never before.”

Agency security guard Tommy Carroll, from Rounds Green, is shocked how the profile of shoplifters has changed. Previously his main foe would be relentless drug addicts using foil lined “magic bags” stealing to order but now there are more poverty-stricken thieves desperate for food and even working people unable to make ends meet at the end of the month.

He said: “Shoplifters have always stolen food, its the first thing you are told as a security guard to look out for is people stealing meat which can be sold down the pub. But now we are seeing normal people trying to wander through checkout without paying for their groceries, they just break down when confronted and say they have nothing at home. Then there are foodlifters who are ‘hangry’ – angry because of hunger – they can be vicious if caught.”

Tommy believes a combination of self-service checkouts tempting skint shoppers to thieve for the first time and reluctance of the police to respond to shoplifting calls if the amount stolen is under £100. However, retailers are fighting back by employing dedicated detectives, Boots have a national CCTV centre in Nottingham which linked to its stores and through microphones can tell thieves they have been spotted.

He said: “Tactics are changing, the security guard was always visible to be a deterrent but Greggs now have undercover guards who challenge thieves as they leave the shop, the shame of that might act as another type of deterrent.” Greggs have been approached for a comment about their plain clothes security guards but are staying tight-lipped about their strategy to stop shoplifting.

Tommy, 39, added: “Where I work the price of Lurpak has gone over £6 you can see the shock on people’s faces as they can’t buy what they used to. And with their electric, gas and water bills going up this month Easter will be manic.”

Tesco now puts security alarms on four pint bottles of milk

Market research firm Kantar calculated the average family’s annual grocery bill has risen £837 this year with eggs, milk and cheese prices increasing sharply.

Announcing an increase in security guards and staff wearing body cameras Tracey Clements, the head of BP convenience stores, said their UK stores are being hit by crime a lot worse than in its other nine European countries outlets.

Blaming the current climate on the cost of living crisis Mrs Clements likened it to the aftermath of the 2008 banking crisis and subsequent recession which saw thefts rise and abuse to staff increase.

The Office of National Statistics latest statistics for England and Wales found shoplifting rose by 22 per cent in the year to September. There were 7.9 million cases last year, five million more than in 2016/17.

However, the vast majority of unsuccessful shoplifting attempts do not even result in a police caution and it is impossible to discover how many successful attempts happen every day.