Tackling Causes Not Symptoms

I was on the TV over the weekend being interviewed about the cost of living crisis and the link to shop theft. The narrative is seductively simple: people are struggling to feed their families so are stealing food and essentials from shops to do this. There’s just one problem: this isn’t what’s happening.

Most of the people who are promoting this idea are sitting miles from the shop floor and armed with a mish-mash of prejudices about and detached sympathy for poorer people. The reality of course is that most people wouldn’t steal from another person or business under any circumstances, and that the desperation that drives theft is far more related to addiction than poverty.

Just to be clear: the people who are stealing from convenience stores now are the same people who were stealing from them last year, before the pandemic and a decade ago. They’re by and large repeat offenders stealing products to order or hoping to re-sell them, and doing so to fund addiction to drugs or alcohol. This is an awful cycle for society, retailers and most of all for those individuals and the people close to them. This really matters because arguably well-meaning comments about how we treat shop theft in a cost of living crisis could be actively harmful.

Firstly, to hear senior police officers warn that some shop theft may not be investigated will come across as a bad joke to our members who know that a tiny proportion of these incidents are met with any response at all, let alone offenders being pursued through the courts and brought to justice. If a shop thief is apprehended, they are very unlikely to actually be charged, with a small proportion of incidents resulting in even a caution.

Every incident should be reported, investigated and the offender arrested and charged where there is evidence to do so, because unless repeat offenders are identified there is no mechanism for addressing the problems those individuals are facing. “Effective interventions” isn’t code for long prison sentences - which should absolutely be applied where violence has been used – it’s about rehabilitation and support to break the cycle of addiction and crime. This is really difficult to do, but it’s the only viable and sustainable approach.

Which takes me back to those accusing poor people of being latent thieves now forced to steal to survive. Turning a blind eye to shop theft is already the norm, it’s unacceptable and it’s a missed opportunity to address troubled individuals, help businesses operating in communities, and reduce levels of crime right across society. Now would be a good time change this.

This entry was posted by Chloe on Tue, 24/05/2022 - 16:42