Shoplifting has surged to record levels in the UK, fuelled by the recession, according to a study.
The value of retail goods stolen rose 20% to £4.88bn in the year to June, the Centre for Retail Research said.
The UK had the highest amount in value of shoplifted goods in Europe and was third behind the US and Japan globally, data from 1,069 retailers suggests.
Checkpoint Systems, which commissioned the report, said there had been a rise in “middle-class” shoplifters.
It said more people were now stealing goods simply to maintain their standard of living rather than to sell them on.
Checkpoint Systems vice-president Neil Matthews added: “This is epitomised in the recent uprising of the middle-class shoplifter, someone who has turned to theft to sustain their standard of living.
“This is driving theft of items such as cosmetics, perfumes and face creams, alcohol, fresh meat, mobile phones, computer games and DVDs, as well as small electrical goods like cameras, iPods and personal care gadgets.”
The Global Retail Theft Barometer 2009 is based on data from a confidential survey of 1,069 large retailers with combined sales of £514bn.
It reports key findings on retail shrinkage and crime in 41 countries on five continents based on that data.
The survey also suggests that while theft by organised gangs and opportunistic shoplifters is on the up, employee theft is also increasing.
According to the report, employee shoplifters are the most prolific, accounting for an average loss of £1,595.66 per incident in the UK, compared with £80.31 for “external” thefts.
According to the study, the UK ranked second worst – behind the Irish Republic – in Europe in the employee theft stakes, with 36.4% of all loss down to staff.
“The UK’s retail industry has seen its largest ever increase in shoplifting over the last 12 months, and it comes at a time when the industry can least afford it,” Mr Matthews said.
“Retailers simply cannot afford to ignore this problem, it is not going to go away and is the equivalent of criminals taxing every UK household £227 per year.”
As a result, over the past year UK retailers invested an estimated £926m in security measures to combat theft including paying for security staff, electronic tags and CCTV.
In Europe, Portugal was least affected by shoplifting, losing £294m during the year.
Worldwide, the US was worst affected, losing £26.4bn a year, while second placed Japan lost £6.03bn.