REPORTED crime figures give us numbers; to work out what they actually mean requires more complex analysis.

The latest Police Scotland statistics contain two positive narratives around serious crime - that homicide is at a record low, and reported rapes at a record high.

The changing story behind another less serious crime is just as interesting, however. In years gone by we tended to think of shoplifting as a crime perpetrated by organised gangs looking for high value items, young people seeking a thrill or perhaps drug addicts.

And, as CCTV coverage, facial recognition technology and sharing of information between stores all improved, we should have expected such thefts to dissipate. For some years now, however, the statistics have told a very different story.

Indeed, shoplifting has been on the rise for much of the last decade, with the latest Police Scotland crime figures showing a 10 per cent increase in shoplifting in the year to April 2018.

But what’s behind this trend? Well, the reasons reflect the changing nature of society in a number of interesting - often sad - ways.

It will come as little surprise that poverty is one of factors causing the rise. With years of austerity and benefits cuts continuing to bite, some of those at the bottom feel there is little choice but to steal food. Supermarkets and convenience stores are being targeted as never before because there are more vulnerable people than ever slipping through the cracks – example include those sanctioned by the benefits system, the elderly, migrants and asylum seekers with no access to benefits and the homeless – with some resorting to shoplifting rather than seeking help from a foodbank. There has also been a rise in theft from cheap clothing stores.

Indeed, the police are well aware of the fact that poverty can drive people to steal, and in some cases they refer vulnerable people to social services, charities and foodbanks rather than putting them through the criminal justice system.

Clearly not all those who steal from supermarkets are starving, however. Indeed, recently criminologists have highlighted an increasingly popular supermarket scam where shoppers pass off more expensive items for cheaper ones at self-service tills. Putting through avocados, for example, as carrots, is costing stores dear, with many customers apparently “unaware” that purposely making such a switch is shoplifting.

Look even further behind the statistics, however, and you will also likely find a struggling high street investing more in security, catching more shoplifters and thus reporting more crime. Only last year, meanwhile, a survey of Scottish retailers found that every single respondent regularly experienced theft.

So, whether it’s down to poverty, till scamming or high street stores feeling the pinch, the rise in reported shoplifting is grim. And retailers cannot afford to keep soaking up the losses; in the end we all pay more.