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Forget San Francisco — Britain has a shoplifting epidemic too

September 7, 2023 - 7:00am

San Francisco’s shoplifting epidemic is shocking to behold. But we shouldn’t imagine that the same couldn’t happen here. In fact, we’re well on our way. According to the British Retail Consortium, theft from stores across 10 UK cities is up by 26%. More, “incidents of violence and abuse against retail employees have almost doubled on pre-pandemic levels.”

On Tuesday, Asda Chairman Stuart Rose told LBC that “theft is a big issue. It has become decriminalised. It has become minimised. It’s actually just not seen as a crime anymore.”

In the absence of an adequate response from the authorities, retailers are beginning to take defensive measures. For instance, home furnishings company Dunelm is now locking up duvets and pillow cases in cabinets; Waitrose is offering free coffees to police officers to increase their visibility; and Tesco plans to equip staff with body cameras. 

The “progressive” response to this phenomenon isn’t quite as deranged as it is in in the US. Nevertheless, British liberals have responded as expected. A piece in the Observer is typical. You’ll never guess, but apparently it’s all the Tories’ fault: “Starving your population and then ‘cracking down’ on it for nicking baby formula or a can of soup can start to make a government look rather unreasonable.”

But as the writer ought to know, the issue here isn’t the desperate young mum hiding a few groceries in the pram. Nor is it the schoolboy pilfering the occasional bag of sweets. Rather, the real problem is blatant, organised and sometimes violent theft of higher value items. Criminals who never previously thought they could get away with it increasingly now do — thus presenting a material threat to retail as we know it. 

But instead of addressing the issue head-on, the writer blames the victim: “Once goods were kept behind counters, but since the birth of large supermarkets they have been laid out near the door, ready for the taking.” How terribly irresponsible of them! On the other hand, perhaps the open display of goods isn’t just a convenience for customers, but instead the hallmark of a high trust society. 

In fact, modern shops are a minor miracle of civilisation: public spaces, stacked high with products from all over the world, that passing strangers may freely inspect and handle, but which aren’t looted by anyone who feels like it.

Surely, that’s something worth defending. But if you’d prefer to abandon retailers to their fate, then don’t moan when they do what it takes to survive. Some will close, of course, and others will move their operations online. Those who stay open will guard themselves and their stock behind plexiglass and electronic tags. And then there’s the hi-tech solution: the fully automated and completely cashless store, in which customers have to be authenticated to even get in. 

Remember that retail facilities like this already exist. One day, when they become the norm, we’ll remember what shops used to be like. Then, we’ll ask why no one stood up for them.


Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.

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36 Comments
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Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
8 months ago

Spot on. When societies stop doing the things which made them free and prosperous, sooner or later they will stop being free and prosperous.

Muad Dib
Muad Dib
8 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

In many places it is borderline looting. We always hear about mum that cannot pay for formula. That’s probably 0.01% of billions stolen. Mrs is in the retail, they have gangs coming daily, going for high value items 100s of £ in one go and they cannot do much about it. These are professionals thieves and police will not even show up. Leading job role in London is Loss Prevention Officer. You know who covers the cost of all losses and additional measures for security? Those idiots that actually pay for their shopping, through higher prices, and sometimes people in retail by losing their jobs.

Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
8 months ago

Reading the comments under the Observer piece, one is reminded just how stupid the supposed educated “liberal” class are.
In their mind: every shoplifter is just trying to save a starving baby, every person on the dole is desperate for a job, every criminal is the product of an exploitative capitalist society, everyone on sickness benefits is actually sick. The idea that people can be just inherently greedy, lazy, selfish and corrupt is ridiculed as unsophisticated, ignorant, bunkum.
It seems that the more a person is notionally intelligent, the better they are at coming up with ideas and arguments that enable them to continue to believe demonstrably false and stupid things.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
8 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Leach

Not long ago I saw a video of two girls from the ‘hood sitting in the stairwell of some grubby apartment building. They were wearing fake hair, nails and lashes, and were clearly very high. The bigger of the two said “I have a message for you white people, so y’all listen up: PAY me, motherf******. PAY me!!!!”
She didn’t seem keen on getting a job. Don’t know if there was a starving baby involved.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
8 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Leach

That’s because they know very well they themselves won’t have to bear the consequences of their “liberal” views.
They would be most vociferously complaining about it if this happened in their nice upper class neighbourhoods.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
8 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

So what would you do? Fill the prisons up further?

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

No, releases the prisoners and settle them in localities with large numbers of Guardian readers and Labour voting BBC employees.
Then wait for them to demand that the prisons be filled up.

Julie Coates
Julie Coates
8 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Good idea Samir.!

Studio Largo
Studio Largo
8 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Nice.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
8 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Leach

One thing is for sure, no one is ever going to nick a copy of the Observer (or Guardian)

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
8 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Leach

But you are going too far the other way. Of course people can be greedy, lazy selfish etc. But if you think that is the whole explanation you have some problems.
1 You end up just with moral indignation, and calls for longer prison sentences which does nothing.
2. You have to explain why it is in more equal & economically prosperous societies shop lifting is much lower. Is it just a coincidence that shop lifting has increased with the cost of living crisis?

Of course it is those with bad upbringings etc who tend to shop lift. But what do you do? Rage at humanities moral corruption or try to create a society where you know crime will be lower?

Tough on crime tough on the causes of crime!

Last edited 8 months ago by Martin Butler
Gorka Sillero
Gorka Sillero
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

you say this:

“You end up just with moral indignation, and calls for longer prison sentences which does nothing.”

but relaxing the criminal justice and turn a blind eye to theft and robbery also does nothing. It incentivise it as we clearly see in US cities and now here at home where you can literally steal £300 of goods knowing nothing will happen to you.

Are you ok with gangs of looters literally wrecking havoc in the high street?

do you think that certain demographics are entitled to do more crime than other demographics? if so, why?

Clara B
Clara B
8 months ago

This topic makes me especially angry. A member of my own family, a teenage girl, had to leave her job as a shop assistant (her first ever job) because it became too dangerous for her. She was verbally abused and threatened daily, not by hard-up single mums or near-starving pensioners but by organised criminal gangs who would come into the shop with holdalls and literally sweep high value items (meat, alcohol) off the shelves. The police did nothing and management were hopeless. Those journalists who depict this a consequence of poverty know nothing; this is organised, sometimes violent crime and the perpetrators think nothing of threatening to beat teenage girls up. I think my post would be censored if I wrote what I really think of them.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
8 months ago
Reply to  Clara B

If this was a result of poverty, you would find more such incidents in India or Vietnam, not in Britain where you get free Medicare, schooling, welfare support, housing…

It’s just an awful culture based on entitlement, and lack of fear of any punishment, built in from childhood in Western countries.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
8 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Not really. It’s a society where those in power don’t give a toss about what happens in poor areas. Interesting that it is societies that idealise the ‘small state’ (US and UK) that seem to get the worse crime.
The comparison with India and Vietnam is misplaced. It’s always about perceived inequality in a community, and a culture of out and out individualism, not the absolute levels of poverty that matters.

Last edited 8 months ago by Martin Butler
Samir Iker
Samir Iker
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Strangely enough, three spurts of shoplifting in both the US and UK appear to happen in wealthier urban regions where you have more employment opportunities and less dire poverty – rural, poverty stricken parts of the country, less so

Gorka Sillero
Gorka Sillero
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Another bad take.
There are very inequal societies across Europe and Asia and this culture of looting is not common at all.
Take Rusia, an extremely unequal country. You won’t see this thuggery because they would get harsh retributions. You won’t find useful lefties like you simping for it either.

Julie Coates
Julie Coates
8 months ago
Reply to  Clara B

Iagree with you Clara. These people are expert at virtue signalling but have no idea of psychopathy or what motivates certain types of behaviour . It’s often power and control and not personal suffering, that is the catalyst for many crimes.The lack of empathy is quite striking in those who are happy to stand by and watch people who have little recourse to social justice be mangled and misquoted.

Last edited 8 months ago by Julie Coates
Ian Barton
Ian Barton
8 months ago

If the police don’t have the resources to investigate every theft – then instead of prioritising by the value of goods stolen – they should just randomly select cases to investigate. All thieves would then be at risk of prosecution. This approach would also crack down on early-stage criminals as well as the professionals.

Last edited 8 months ago by Ian Barton
Samir Iker
Samir Iker
8 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Good idea – and as you correctly point out, and studies show, the probability of getting caught is the main deterrent factor, not the length of sentence.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
8 months ago

‘Martha Gill is an Observer columnist’

Why?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
8 months ago

It’ll be the Albanians is my guess

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Unrepeatable sadly.

Last edited 8 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

CENSORED.

Last edited 8 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Isn’t that a teeny weeny bit ‘racist’ as we now say, Bob old chap?

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
8 months ago

Albanians are white men from Europe. Did you go to school?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
8 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Did you?

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
8 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Saying anything negative about immigrants from Europe or religious groups followed by different ethnicities is racist…..
But attacking or disparaging Whites living in their own countries, or non victim racial minorities, is all fine.
What a world.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
8 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

What does their skin colour have to do with anything?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
8 months ago

Possibly, though it’s fairly common knowledge they’re massively over represented in criminal enterprises in Britain

Last edited 8 months ago by Billy Bob
Rae Ade
Rae Ade
8 months ago

Good article. It would be good to have a list of ‘crimes the police don’t have the resources to investigate’, for reference and they can include vets charges.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 months ago

“ And then there’s the hi-tech solution: the fully automated and completely cashless store, in which customers have to be authenticated to even get in.”

This will ultimately be the end result. And only the proper and compliant people will be allowed to enter.

Julie Coates
Julie Coates
8 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Those that haven’t been ‘de-banked’ because of their political beliefs!

Last edited 8 months ago by Julie Coates
Simon Neale
Simon Neale
8 months ago

the writer blames the victim: “Once goods were kept behind counters, but since the birth of large supermarkets they have been laid out near the door, ready for the taking.

Yes, just like all those young girls displaying their bodies with their miniskirts and skimpy little tops. What do they expect to happen? Asking for it, I tell you!!

Gorka Sillero
Gorka Sillero
8 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

Not the first time a lefty with a rotten brain plays the victim blaming game. Sadly it won’t be the last either

Paul T
Paul T
8 months ago

Just remember; whatever you think, you hate we you do the left hates you for it.

China looks to exploit Taiwanese division

Xi Jinping could mimic Putin's playbook by exploiting strife in Taiwan. Credit: Getty

May 19, 2024 - 6:30pm

Taiwan’s soon-to-be President Lai Ching-te was always going to face a difficult challenge. As the face of the pro-sovereignty Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), he has to reckon with a legislative chamber controlled by the China-friendly opposition, the Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP).  Such a dynamic is never easy to manage, but Lai has been dealt his first political crisis before even being sworn in.

On Friday, a brawl erupted in Taiwan’s legislative chamber over an opposition bill proposing to increase the power of the legislature. One of the DPP lawmakers took the document and tried to run out of the hemicycle with it, leading to fights that left various members of the Legislative Yuan having to receive medical treatment. Videos of the event went viral, prompting hundreds of DPP supporters to gather outside.

The proposed bill requires a mandatory annual State of the Nation address by the president in the legislative chamber and on-the-spot questioning by lawmakers, changing the current optional and delayed response system. The DPP argues that these sessions would be unconstitutional, adding that the KMT was using its majority in the chamber to rush a vote on the bill without time to amend and debate the bill properly. The opposition remarks that the bill has been discussed for weeks, and the DPP is just trying to subvert the will of the hemicycle.

Brawls are not uncommon in Taiwanese politics. But the ongoing protests have created a degree of internal strife that, with the looming threat of China’s invasion, Taiwan cannot afford. When thinking about how the internal politics of the island would impact Beijing’s calculus for invasion, a strong DPP is often seen as the major risk factor. The reality is that a scenario where the KMT and TPP have control of certain institutions could be even more volatile.

The DPP was born as a protest party from the democratic opposition during the last years of the KMT regime. After almost a decade in power, the DPP has gone through a process of institutionalisation. However, its sympathisers remain much more likely to protest when their party lacks institutional power.

Long-lasting disruptions of Taiwanese institutions by pro-DPP forces could open a political crisis in Taiwan resembling what Ukraine experienced after Euromaidan. The Maidan revolt of 2014 overthrew the elected government of President Viktor Yanukovych who, regardless of his ministry’s corruption, remained the legitimate president of Ukraine in the eyes of voters. His downfall opened a wound in the country’s society that, through Moscow’s support, led to the separation of Eastern Ukraine, paving the way for Vladimir Putin’s invasion in 2022.

If the legislative action of the KMT and the TPP is constantly obstructed by the DPP and its grassroots, opposition supporters will increasingly feel that their votes aren’t respected. That will diminish their confidence in Taiwan’s democratic system and solidify internal polarisation. In this scenario, Xi Jinping could mimic Putin’s playbook in Ukraine by exploiting this strife, positioning himself as the protector of an aggravated part of Taiwanese society and accusing the other side of being part of “foreign hostile forces” that want to take over the island. This could then be his justification for an invasion.

On 21 May, debate over the controversial bill will resume, and DPP supporters have already called for new protests surrounding the Legislative Yuan. China is unlikely to take immediate action in the present crisis, but the fact that lawmakers have already got physical over one of the first bills of the new term sets an ominous tone for Ling Ching-te’s Taiwan. How the Taiwanese political class is able to manage its differences might be crucial for the future of the island — and the world.


Miquel Vila is a political consultant specialising in international affairs. He is also the executive director of the Catalonia Global Institute.

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Martin M
Martin M
4 hours ago

Can someone please explain why any rational citizen of free and democratic Taiwan would want to voluntarily take on the yoke of the Chinese Communist Party? It is all very well and good to say that China and Taiwan are “one country” (historically they undoubtedly were), and it is all very well and good to say (as some commenters here do) that China isn’t really that communist anymore (in an economic sense at least), but why would anybody who is used to freedom want to be ruled by Xi Jinping and his cronies?