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Britain: A Nation of Shoplifters

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Matt Rahman
Matt Rahman

 Shoplifters have cost UK stores £4.4bn in the last year, adding £180 to the average shopping bill of every family. Research carried out among 42,000 shops across Europe found that over a third of thefts were carried out by staff, with British workers the worst offenders – or as I like to spin it, “Brits are the best at robbing stuff from their employers”.

But sadly, yet again, the UK leads Europe…this time in shoplifting. To add to our growing record of leading the league tables in the most shameful and rubbish aspects of society in Europe, we can now add shoplifting. I’m really hoping they set up some kind of dysfunctional Olympic Games consisting of events from the gutter, as the Team GB would have a very impressive medal haul. Though I’m not quite sure who ‘they’ would be in this case, or whether I’d like to meet them. 
There was a bit of hoopla in the UK press recently – in between the more serious stuff of Strictly Come Dancing, X-Factor, Greedy Rooney and Man United saga and the UK budget cuts – about some research published that came up with some staggering figures related to shoplifting: a survey by the Centre for Retail Research found that an average of £12,054,794 worth of goods were stolen every day in the UK in the 12 months to June 30. In order to hammer it home, it was reported that this results in £180 being added to the annual household shopping bill for stores to counteract shoplifting. 
£12M!? Now as a youth, and I suspect most of us have done this at some point, nicked a few sweets from the local shop, but this crazy amount works out to be an average haul of £93. And more surprising is what’s being nicked. Branded clothing is the most common target, but meat, cheese, alcohol and even seafood are also popular items to pinch.
I can understand the branded clothes bit. You can go into any number of pubs on a Saturday afternoon in a lot of UK towns and have some hoodied guttersnipe offer you an Armani sweatshirt for £30 (RRP £90) to supplement their unemployment benefit, but cheese?  Who’d of thunk it? I have yet to be offered a block of Cheddar, a wheel of Stilton or a ball of Edam, but I live in hope. On my next trip to the boozer on a Saturday afternoon I shall be sure to be carrying a packet of crackers and a few grapes in the off chance some contraband cheeses come my way.
On a more serious note, the fact that items such as cheese and meat are being purloined may suggest that some of this stuff is being taken by poor souls who actually need the stuff to eat, rather than sell on. If this is the case, this is a worrying trend. Are we creating a class below the bread line who depend on crime to make ends meet? If this is the case, UK society is in a more terrible state than I imagined. 
On the plus side, the £4.4bn total is 5.8% lower than the total worth of goods stolen in the previous 12 months during the height of the recession, but it is £700m up on the 2008 total. Experts reckon long-term trends also show the figure is likely to continue rising.
So why are the Brits robbing more from their employers than anyone else in Europe? We were once described as a nation of shop keepers. Now we’re a nation of shoplifters. My theory – and it is only a theory – is that we pay shop staff too little and there could also be a factor that we have created a generation that demand instant gratification and are not prepared to work harder/longer, save a few quid or re-prioritise expenditure in order to get material objects. In a country where a dim-witted, wh0re-mongering, footballer can have a public tantrum and double an already obscene wage to a XXX-rated one, why shouldn’t some kid trouser a packet of bacon when the boss isn’t looking? This is the twisted logic that is permeating society. 
But fear not – we already have the solution, and it should cost a lot less than the £970M+ that stores claim they are spending on crime prevention (I bet if they pay staff and the security guard a bit more the rate of robbing will drop significantly and it’ll come in at under a billion pounds). 
Earlier in the year the BBC reported that Shoplifting in Hull had dropped since the introduction of "cardboard coppers" in the city's stores. 
In March 2010, life-size cardboard cut-outs of police officers were put in shops to act as a psychological deterrent to thieves. In the following five months, the number of thefts fell 5% from 1,340 to 1,273 over the same period in 2009. The local police said the cardboard officers were part of a wider strategy to cut retail crime in the city centre.
Why stop there? We could have cardboard police everywhere – you can have your own placed outside your house. We could even have cardboard soldiers, paper planes and nukes made from loads of bog rolls to deter bigger threats. The recent cuts to the UK budget may already be leading us down this path.
Right, I’m off to the shops…anybody want anything?

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