Tesco shoppers are likely to see an increase in instore security personnel in the coming weeks and months, as the supermarket ramps up measures to prevent shoplifting.
According to Tesco Chairman John Allan, the cost of living crisis is driving people towards stealing from supermarkets. He told Times Radio the issue was a growing one for all levels of the grocery sector, as rising costs cause “desperate people [to take] desperate measures”.
Office for National Statistics data revealed there was a 21% uptick in shoplifting in the 12 months to March 2022. This is thought to be related to the lifting of social distancing restrictions put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19, which made it difficult for shoplifters to disguise their actions.
With the cost of living crisis increasing in severity, it is expected this number will rise further. In response, Allan said Tesco supermarkets would be upping both security staff and security tagging as a deterrent.
“Shoplifting is a concern and getting the police to take action and respond to cases… is an issue,” he said.
Policing advice in relation to shoplifting amid the crisis has so far been muddled. In May, Chief Inspector of Constabulary Andy Cooke told officers to employ “discretion” when deciding whether to prosecute people for stealing food.
However then-Policing Minister Kit Malthouse contradicted this, by saying in an LBC interview that police “should not be ignoring [these] seemingly small crimes”.
Besides putting more security guards in shops, Allan also told Times Radio that shoppers will likely see additional security tags fitted to items which are “most likely” to get stolen.
Explaining the decision, he said: “Obviously there’s a limit to the amount you can do, so we try to do that intelligently in terms of the products that are most likely to be stolen.”
The security tagging of food has already caused some outrage on social media, with some users lambasting shops for using the measures on products like cheese and meat. As fresh food continues to soar in price – to levels not seen since the financial crash of 2008 – this is likely to continue.
Beyond Tesco, Iceland Managing Director Richard Walker has also spoken out about an increase in shoplifting. As well as losing individual stores money, Walker said in an interview with Good Morning Britain that his concern was with supermarket staff, who often bear the brunt of the public’s ire.
“I get the serious incident reports every week of aggressive behaviour that goes on in our stores and unfortunately it is going up because people are struggling,” he said.
These comments echo anxieties raised by shopworker trade union Usdaw. “Our annual survey found that 9 in 10 retail workers suffered abuse from customers, with far too many experiencing threats and violence. Theft from shops was the trigger for nearly a quarter of these incidents last year,” said Usdaw General Secretary Paddy Lillis.
“Shoplifting is not a victimless crime, theft from shops has long been a major flashpoint for violence and abuse against shopworkers,” he added.
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