SHOPLIFTING was fuelled by the recession and surged to record levels in the UK this year, according to reports today.
The value of retail goods stolen rose 20% to £4.88 billion in the year to June, a study by the Centre for Retail Research found.
The UK had the highest rate of shoplifting in Europe and only the US and Japan had higher levels worldwide.
The Global Retail Theft Barometer 2009, based on a survey of 1,069 large retailers with combined sales of £514 billion, also found more "middle-class" people were now stealing in order to maintain their standard of living rather than to sell the goods on.
Neil Matthews, vice-president of Checkpoint Systems, told the BBC: "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."
Employee shoplifters were the most prolific, accounting for an average loss of £1,595.66 per incident in the UK, compared with £80.31 for "external" thefts, the study commissioned by Checkpoint Systems found.
The UK was the second worst, behind the Irish Republic, in Europe in the employee theft stakes, with 36.4% of all loss down to staff, according to the study.
Mr Matthews added: "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..
"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."
Worldwide, the US was worst affected, losing £26.4 billion a year, while second placed Japan lost £6.03 billion.
1 ECONOMY Shoplifting
'MIDDLE-CLASSES SHOPLIFTING TO MAINTAIN LIFESTYLE'
By Chris Greenwood, Press Association Crime Correspondent
Affluent shoppers hit by the recession are fuelling a shoplifting crimewave, according to research published today.
Middle-class people reluctant to give up luxuries they can no longer afford are behind thefts of expensive foods, alcohol and cosmetics, it was claimed.
Hundreds of retailers said shoplifting surged as goods were taken for personal use and not for re-sale by organised criminal gangs.
Shoplifting shot up by a fifth in the 12 months to June, leaving shops to pick up a £4.88 billion bill for lost stock.
The data was compiled from 42,000 shops across Europe by the Centre for Retail Research on behalf of Checkpoint Systems, a retail security company.
Britain registered the highest rate of shoplifting in Europe and only the United States and Japan had higher levels worldwide.
Neil Matthews, of Checkpoint Systems, said the surge in shoplifting comes at a time when retailers can least afford it.
He said: "But what is perhaps as surprising as the figures themselves is that we are not simply looking at your traditional shoplifters here.
"We are seeing more instances of amateur thieves stealing goods for their own personal use rather than to sell on than before.
"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 survey found that an average shoplifter takes goods worth £80.31, with expensive branded goods at the top of their "shopping" lists.
Fashion clothing stores saw one of the highest increases in theft (up 9%), followed by speciality food and convenience stores (up 8.4%) and DIY outlets (up 4%).
The report highlighted that, although shoplifters and organised gangs are the most common thieves, employee theft is also rising.
Branded "silent shoplifters" in the trade, employee thieves are more prolific and steal goods worth £1,585.
Mr Matthews said British stores invested more than £926 million in measures to counter shoplifting over the last year.
He added: "Loss from retail crime is often viewed as simply a cost of doing business.
"But as the report clearly demonstrates the social and economic impact of turning a blind eye is immense, especially in these tough economic times.
"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."
Researchers questioned 1,069 large retailers with combined sales of £514 billion for the survey.