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Britons are turning to crime as the cost of living crisis drags on, with theft of meat, alcohol and confectionery from shops last year at a decade-high, according to new data.

More than 1.1mn incidents of theft were recorded in 2022, up from 970,000 the year before, reaching its highest level in a decade, according to a report by the Association of Convenience Stores published on Thursday.

James Lowman, chief executive of ACS which represents small shops across the UK, said the levels of theft happening daily were “unprecedented”. “Repeat offenders, known to the community and known to the police, are stealing without fear of reproach,” he added. 

More people are committing crimes in response to the worst cost of living crisis for a generation as many households struggle to afford basic daily items as prices continue to rise.

The report comes after new data released on Wednesday showed that inflation remained stuck at 8.7 per cent in May, worse than the 8.4 per cent expected, raising pressure on the Bank of England to ramp up interest rates.

A rise in gang activity and people with addiction problems stealing to fund their drug or alcohol habits had fuelled crime rates, the report found. Higher value shop products, such as meat or alcohol, can typically be sold on.

Although food price inflation dipped from 19 per cent in April to 18.3 per cent last month, the cost of food itself in supermarkets still rose 0.9 per cent in May alone.

Stores have limited the number of items on their shelves in recent months to reduce the risk of items being stolen, as well as adding security tags to food items such as steaks, cheese and butter. 

Almost 80 per cent of retailers surveyed by the ACS, which has around 48,000 members, said the cost of living crisis was driving theft, with a majority of store staff having experienced verbal abuse over the past year.

Local shops are calling on the police and government to introduce a “most wanted” list of shop thieves in local areas, so prolific offenders can be identified and banned from stores or referred to rehabilitation programmes.

Fiona Malone, who runs Tenby Stores, a local independent store in Wales, said: “Many of the people stealing from my shop are known to the community and the police. We need to do a better job at tackling these offenders and bringing them to justice.

“Unfortunately, shop thieves know that the police rarely take notice of anything stolen under £50 in value.”

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