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Tool Theft In The UK: The Root Causes

Why is tool theft soaring in the UK and what you can do about your van security

Even before Covid, there was a growing problem. Since 2015 there has been a 45% increase in tool and van theft across the UK, with a van broken into every thirty minutes. The results of this can be devastating for small businesses and its thought that these thefts have cost roughly £70 million since 2016. 

But with more modern technology and better security than many have ever had, why is the number going up so rapidly?  

If this had all occurred during the Covid-19 crisis there would have at least been the argument that during difficult times some people were forced into making some bad decisions. However, this rise in crime began long before the word Covid was ever whispered. 

Van security


While we love to talk about van security and even bringing tools inside at night, the hard truth is that there is a large (and growing) number of people who see absolutely nothing wrong with breaking into a van or even walking onto a building site and helping themselves to what they can see. Or perhaps they do see something wrong with it but because of x, y or z, they choose to do it anyway. 

And here lies the real messy problem. Why do these people see nothing wrong with what they’re doing and how can we stop it?

Ask most experts on why crime occurs and they will point to poverty, addiction, negative influence, self-esteem issues or mental health. It’s clear that some get into a cycle which is hard to recover from and it can be all too easy to assume that there is a quick fix. 


Our ideas of criminality are often black and white. Some may take a hardline approach and see criminals as nothing more than

"Leeches on society & must go to jail".

Others argue that it’s all society's fault and that bad behaviour and criminality can always be linked back to injustices that we see around us. The truth is that neither of these approaches is fully applicable and the reasons behind the rise in criminality, and in this case the dramatic increase in tool theft, is incredibly complex. 


tool theft


It can be easy to assume that those committing a crime are doing so simply because of external factors, but several biological factors heavily contribute to it. Our prefrontal cortex lies, as you might have guessed, at the front of the brain and plays a key role in determining what is right and wrong and self-control. This is a part of the brain that doesn’t fully develop until we are in our 20s and those who have a damaged or underdeveloped prefrontal cortex may struggle with determining morality and self-control, which in turn can lead to an increase in criminal tendencies. 


Various theories are often put forward to explain crime in terms of its sociological causes. One is known as the Chicago School Theory which states that poor housing, education and health in certain areas contributes to a neighbourhood dynamic where criminality increases. The focus shifts away from the individual to those of the group. 

Strain Theory is another popular argument to explain why crime occurs. Essentially it says that our society has developed to such an extent that many cannot keep up with the strain that is demanded of us. This includes everything from what we drive, wear, eat and buy to how we live our lives in general. Scrolling through Instagram or Facebook it’s not hard to feel a low sense of self-esteem when we compare our lives to the wonderful shiny existence that many appear to have. 

We are living in a time when we have more than we have ever had, but many still live with a deep sense of dissatisfaction.

For some of this might be down to a person's self-worth but there are plenty of glaring issues in the real-world. The amount of money that the richest people in the world have made during this pandemic is truly shocking and has only added to a general sense of bitterness towards the growing inequality we see in the UK and across the world.

Poverty is one of the biggest contributing factors to theft and crime in general

Greek philosopher Aristotle even went as far as to say ‘poverty is the parent of crime’. Those living in poverty are significantly more likely to experience crime than those who do not, while the effects of poverty can easily be enough to drive people to desperation.          


It all begins with education - both at home and in schools. The idea that stealing is bad

and you shouldn’t do it is normally something that is instilled in children at a young age. But that’s assuming that you are growing up in an environment where that virtue is openly taught. 

The sad reality is that those growing up with thieves as family members or role models have a higher chance of following the same pattern.

We also see that those who experience problems at school can easily fall into the same kind of trap. London has seen a 26% increase in expulsion rates over the last few years, with many arguing that this has contributed to the increase in violent crimes over the same period.   

Mental Health Issues 

2019 was the year that we all seemed to start talking about mental health a lot more but the current health crisis is likely going exasperated this even further. We should say that mental illness is by no means a prerequisite for criminality studies seem to suggest that the overwhelming majority of crime is not carried out by those mental health issues, and they are actually more likely to be the victims of crime. 

However, linking back into what was said about society, those struggling with mental health issues may find it harder than others to deal with the various stresses that appear in life, which in turn may lead to crime.  


An expensive dependence on drugs can easily lead to theft and with some addictions costing thousands each month, it’s not difficult to see how stealing costly tools might suddenly seem like a viable solution. 

This has led to some suggesting that about half of all acquisitive crime is drug-related. However, addiction and its link to crime are often sensationalised in the media. It's easy to portray criminals as poor drug addicts, and while this is certainly sometimes the case, the huge increase in tool theft is certainly not simply down to drug use. If anything, the sophistication we sometimes see during thefts tells us that these people are well-prepared and knowledgeable on the subject, not crazed drug addicts searching for the next hit.    

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The soaring rate that tools are being stolen cannot simply be explained away quickly and conveniently. This is a topic that has become hugely divisive across socio-economic and political lines, with neither side really able to grasp each other’s points. 

Increasing crime rates are a result of general degradation in society. Whether you choose to point at poverty, education, family or modern society in general, it’s obvious that whatever we are doing is not quite right. But we should be honest about the reasons behind it. Yes, we may be pushing more and more people towards crime because of poverty and inequality, but as a society, we need to take responsibility for an apparent fall in morality also. We need to address poverty, but also education and family dynamics that when done well are significantly less likely to produce criminals in the long run. 

The high number of tool thefts in comparison to other kinds of theft or burglary is probably because they represent an easier target

than say breaking into somebody’s home. Tools worth thousands left unattended in a public area can often be easy pickings. 

If you want to keep your tools safe, make sure they’re secure, but if we want to fix this theft endemic, we might have to take a much closer look at ourselves and the society we are all creating together.   

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