World Mental Health Day: Tool Theft Epidemic Causing Mental Health Emergency Among Tradespeople

• An estimated £2.8 billion worth of tools have been stolen from UK tradespeople, with a staggering four in five (78%) UK tradespeople experiencing tool theft

• 68% of tradespeople worry about tool theft on a daily basis

• Two thirds (66%) of self-employed tradespeople believe having tools stolen has had a ‘strong’ negative impact on their mental health

• Physical symptoms such as headaches or lack of sleep were cited by research participants

World Mental Health Day

This World Mental Health Day, a new report reveals how tool theft is fuelling a mental health emergency among tradespeople and unveils the hidden cost of the crime impacting tradespeople nationwide.

The Tradespeople Against Tool Theft white paper, from the UK’s largest online construction community On The Tools and one of the UK’s largest providers of small business insurance Simply Business, was created to highlight the harsh realities of UK tradespeople who have experienced tool theft.

The study revealed that tool theft is having a severe impact on tradespeoples’ mental health, with 68% of trade workers worrying about tool theft on a daily basis.

Having tools stolen was described by many as having a more damaging effect than other types of theft, most notably because of the ensuing financial strain put on their business. Many respondents stated that it prevented them from being able to work – sometimes for weeks at a time – whilst they looked to replace the stolen equipment.

The study found that tool theft costs tradespeople an average of £4,470 in equipment. One in five (17%) tradespeople lose over £5,000 worth of tools to theft. Collectively across the UK, the estimated cost of tool theft totals an eye-watering £2.8 billion cost, most predominantly affecting the self-employed. The study also revealed that 83% of UK tradespeople did not have tool insurance in place at the time of their experience(s) with tool theft.

The destructive nature of this crime had a clear effect on mental health amongst tradespeople, with more than one in six (15%) experiencing increased anxiety and as many as one in five feeling less safe to trust others and wider society. The research also revealed the level of distress can cause people to blame themselves for not ‘triple checking’ that tools were properly secured. Participants went as far as to cite physical symptoms such as headaches or lack of sleep due to anxiety caused by the crime.

Self-employed electrician Nick Bundy from Staffordshire has been targeted by tool thieves four times. He said “I had my old van broken into four times. I was naïve to it all, so I replaced the tools and then a month later they stole all the stuff I had just bought again. The experience wiped me out.

“Not only did they steal all my stuff the first time, they knew to come back in a month’s time when I had replaced everything.
“I ended up with no money whatsoever, so I had to borrow tools and bits and bobs off other people”.

James Reeve, a self-employed Midlands-based Painter & Decorator recently had his tools stolen. James commented “It’s not like going into a store of a multi-billion pound conglomerate to steal a packet of sweets – you’re stealing someone’s livelihood. It should be treated in a similar way to an assault because that’s basically what it is; you’re taking people’s belongings, which results in potentially taking food off a family’s table. You don’t know what the impact of it is going to be”

The stolen tools market

On Tuesday 27th April 2021, a motion for leave to bring in a Bill was presented in the House of Commons. The Bill proposed a requirement for persons selling second-hand tools online to show the serial numbers of those tools in searchable advertisement text, and for connected purposes. This Bill, as it stands, has not become legislation, leaving the tradespeople of the UK unsupported against the crime of tool theft.

Consumer awareness around the crime is high, with 71% of consumers believing that the average tradesperson has had their tools stolen once or more during the past year. Yet, according to the study, over a fifth (23%) of consumers purchased second-hand and/or refurbished tools. Out of which 19% consumers purchased without making any checks.

Alan Thomas, UK CEO at Simply Business, commented We’ve seen the profound impact of tool theft first-hand, costing tradespeople £4,470 on average. Those on the receiving end are often forced to take time off work, and the financial hit – and longer term repercussions on future business – can inevitably affect mental wellbeing. 

“Tradespeople, like so many other business owners across the country, continue to battle rising costs, surging energy prices, and material shortages, all while continuing their recovery from the impact of the pandemic.
“At the very least, in the midst of a cost of living crisis, there needs to be wider recognition of the fact that tool theft poses countless problems – impacting both finances and wellbeing. 
“At Simply Business, we’re proud to partner with On The Tools to produce this white paper and reignite our campaign to Stamp Out Tool Theft. We hope that by shining a light on the scale and depth of the problem, revealing the true stories of those affected, and offering practical support for the community, we can contribute positively to change.”

Lee Wilcox, CEO of On The Tools, added: “Tool theft is crippling our industry. It’s an issue that impacts an immense proportion of UK tradespeople and can no longer be ignored.
“The Tradespeople Against Tool Theft white paper was created to reveal the widespread consequences of this crime, from the financial impacts to the emotional consequences and more.
“I am hopeful that by distributing this white paper to all corners of the construction industry and beyond, we can encourage the issue to be taken as seriously as it should be, improving the situation for UK tradespeople once and for all. I would also like to thank the industry sponsors and supporters of this research for your invaluable contributions.”