Poverty-stricken residents of Leeds are turning to shoplifting in a bid to make ends meet, the city’s police chief has said.
While official statistics show that most other crime is falling, thefts from shops in Leeds have risen 12 per cent in the last year – from 5,400 in 2012-13 to 6,026 in 2013-14.
It is thought that many offences are still unreported.
Chief Superintendent Paul Money, the commander of Leeds police, believes financial hardship has driven some previously law-abiding people to desperation.
“I’m no academic but the intelligence is telling us that some of it is austerity-driven,” he said.
“There’s a link to austerity in terms of the need to generate income. We are seeing things like foodstuffs being stolen from convenience stores.
“When you look at the chart at who’s doing it, it’s a diverse range of people – everyone from street drinkers and beggars to the lady who lives on the council estate.”
As reported in the Yorkshire Evening Post in January, five of the 10 venues with the most recorded crime in Leeds in the last two years were supermarkets.
Mr Money said community convenience shops were also experiencing growing levels of theft.
He said police were now looking to identify hotspots in order to deploy officers to stores that have a particular issue or increase patrols in areas where the problems are worst.
Work is also taking place to encourage stores to increase their own security measures.
“While thefts from shops have worsened, we have improved our position relative to other force areas,” he added.
“That tells me that we have a general issue across the country – not one that’s specific to Leeds.”
In January the British Retail Consortium’s Retail Crime Survey revealed UK retailers were fighting a rising tide of thefts.
Last year saw the highest level of theft for nine years, and the average value of theft increased by 62 per cent to £177 per incident.
Shane Brennan, public affairs director for the Association of Convenience Stores, said: “The phenomenon of increasing shop thefts is one we are all too aware of. It affects the livelihoods of our small retailers who are working hard to make ends meet.
“We’ve heard the suggestion that more people are stealing because of poverty. It’s not something we can measure, but certainly it’s a very serious problem that needs a proper solution and we are working very carefully at a national level to make sure that shop thefts remain a priority issue.
“The very worst offenders need to be dealt with harshly and the more low level criminals need to be deterred to stop it becoming a habit.”