LONDON - Some 88 UK retail leaders, including the bosses of Tesco, Sainsbury's and Marks & Spencer, have signed a letter to interior minister Suella Braverman, demanding action over rising rates of retail crime.

Rising crime is increasingly becoming a political issue in Britain ahead of an expected national election in 2024.

Industry lobby group the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said its 2023 crime survey showed that incidents of violence and abuse towards retail workers almost doubled compared with pre-pandemic levels to 867 incidents every day in 2021/22.

It also put the scale of retail theft at 953 million pounds ($1.2 billion), despite over 700 million pounds in crime prevention spending by retailers.

"The situation has clearly got worse; a separate BRC survey of members in 2023 found that levels of shoplifting in 10 major cities had risen by an average of 27%," it said.

Ahead of the start of the ruling Conservative Party's annual conference in Manchester on Sunday, the letter outlines two demands from the retail industry to government.

It wants the government to create a standalone offence of assaulting or abusing a retail worker, with tougher sentences for offenders. This would require police forces to record all incidents of retail crime.

The industry also wants greater prioritisation of retail crime by police forces across the UK.

“It’s time the government put their words into action," Helen Dickinson, BRC CEO said.

Earlier this month, the John Lewis Partnership, owner of department stores and Waitrose supermarkets, said Britain was seeing an "epidemic" of shoplifting, with its own "shrinkage", mainly theft, up by 12 million pounds in its first half.

Similarly, clothing chains Primark and Next said their profit margins had been hit by increased theft, while supermarket Tesco said rising store crime had led it to offer its staff body-cams. Discounter Aldi is also trialing these. ($1 = 0.8175 pounds)

(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Alison Williams)