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How the cost of living crisis could impact crime rates in the UK

A man holds his head in anguish as he calculates his bills

The cost of living crisis is one of the biggest shocks to hit British society in modern times, with millions of ordinary people grappling with skyrocketing inflation and serious economic uncertainty.

Experts continue to debate how things may play out, but one particular concern is how the cost of living crisis may impact crime rates in the country. As desperate times push people to desperate measures, what kinds of crimes are now spiking?

Electricity theft

Many people may not have even heard of it, but electricity theft is very much a phenomenon that’s as dangerous as it is illegal. It entails tampering with meters and wires so that electricity usage isn’t accurately recorded, allowing thieves to artificially diminish their bills without the energy companies realising.

Unauthorised meddling with such equipment has the potential to cause injury or even death. Wires can overheat and cause fires, and appliances around a property can be rendered ‘live’ to the touch, leading to burns and shocks. Despite this, reported incidences of electricity theft in England and Wales rose by 13% from 2021 to 2022. And, with energy bills soon reaching dizzying heights, it’s likely that more and more people will be willing to accept the risks.

Gang crime

In August, London mayor Sadiq Khan delivered an ominous warning that violent gang crime like stabbings and shootings may increase as a direct result of the cost of living crisis. His words came amid widespread fears that boys and young men may be lured or coaxed into gangs, seeing it as a way to generate much-needed income in dire economic times.

Speaking recently to The Guardian newspaper, Sherry Peck of the charity Safer London highlighted this phenomenon, saying that ‘social injustice and inequality are the drivers of increased violence’.

Meanwhile, a recent report by Sky News featured insights from a youth worker who confirmed that children as young as 11 are turning to drug dealing and other crimes to support their families. As one teenage boy interviewed for the piece said, ‘Tax, credit, living has gone up. To even live in this country is expensive. So what is there for them [his friends] to do? Sell drugs, make money quickly, without waiting.’

Countryside theft

It’s not just urban areas that are seeing an uptick in crime. The cost of living crisis has also had a big impact on rural crime, with farmers’ vehicles and fuel being stolen. According to a recent report by insurance company NFU Mutual, payouts relating to countryside crimes in the first quarter of the year were a staggering 40% higher than the equivalent period in 2021.

The insurer has also warned that soaring food prices may cause an increase in rustling, with animals like sheep and cows being stolen and then slaughtered for meat in potentially unsafe and unsanitary conditions.

According to a spokeswoman from NFU, rural crime is ‘quickly gathering momentum’, and ‘the knowledge that determined thieves are scouring the countryside looking for targets and returning to carry out night-time raids can lead to sleepless nights for people in remote areas.’


If there’s one crime that’s synonymous with dire economic straits, it’s shoplifting. Indeed, food retail industry magazine The Grocer has recently reported concerns around financial woes pushing more people to steal basic necessities out of sheer desperation.

The Grocer has quoted one retail analyst as saying that shoplifting is ‘definitely getting worse’, with store employees noting an uptick in ‘new, first-time shoplifters’, as opposed to hardened thieves. Depressingly, these first-timers are stealing low value, everyday staples like shampoo and washing powder, rather than luxury products. This is why some supermarkets have taken to locking items as ordinary as bars of chocolate in individual plastic cases.

Insurance fraud

One age-old route to raising money illegally is by making false insurance claims, and it’s a phenomenon that’s been on the rise this year. According to insurance giant Zurich, the number of people making bogus claims of jewellery, mobile devices and other items being lost, damaged or stolen has spiked, partly because of skyrocketing bills.

Throughout the first five months of 2022, Zurich has had to deal with fraud amounting to around £40,000 per working day. Some of the claims have been remarkably brazen. To take just one example, a man making a £3,000 claim for the theft of DIY tools was rumbled when the photo he sent of the items was timestamped for after the date the theft had allegedly occurred.


As noted above, the crisis has sadly led many previously law-abiding people to steal or commit fraud. But it’s also provided rich pickings for opportunistic criminals, with recent Citizens Advice research showing that scammers are preying on people made vulnerable by the current situation.

The research has shown a 14% rise in people being targeted, with scammers posing as postal workers, HMRC staff, and even Ofgem officials asking people to provide their bank details to receive non-existent energy rebates.

In the words of John Herriman, chief executive of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, ‘Consumers are being put under increasing pressure from a wave of scam emails and cold calls from imposters pretending to be from councils or energy companies… At a time when the sad reality is that some are having to make choices between heating and eating, people can be particularly vulnerable to, for example, fraudsters offering cheaper energy.’