Crime in the North East is rising as people start to steal goods they could once afford to pay for, Northumbria’s police commissioner has revealed.
Vera Baird has said there is growing evidence to suggest a newly revealed hike in crime is down to the impact of poverty and welfare reforms.
The Labour commissioner made the claim as she presented new figures which show Northumbria Police will not meet the target she set it of reducing recorded crime by at least 1%. Instead, figures presented by the commissioner show a 7% increase against the target, with the 36,536 reported crimes so far this year adding 2,509 on last year.
And while some of that is down to a rise in violent crime, with a 12% rise compared to the target, much of the increased workload is blamed on crimes which the commissioner said are “what would be called poverty related crimes”.
Explaining the increase, Mrs Baird said: “It’s shoplifting for food, for nappies, for baby food, and it has to be said this is poverty related.
“In a broader sense, it is people who are used to being able to buy something and now they can’t. We are seeing a trend here, of some people stealing what they used to be able to pay for.
“What we want to know, what we are trying to find out, is how many people in that trend are first entrants, are people who have not been in trouble with the police before. That would suggest to us that there is an impact of welfare reform.”
The commissioner said there was so far anecdotal evidence to suggest that many low-level crimes were linked to people who previously had greater support from the benefits system finding themselves in desperate situations.
Labour politicians have repeatedly said the North East has failed to benefit from the gradual rise in the UK’s economic fortunes.
Its unemployment rate has been stuck stubbornly around the 10% rate, the UK’s highest, and across the region a rise in the use of food banks has been reported.
Mrs Baird said there was little doubt in her mind that Government policing cuts had contributed to the rise in crime.
“The chief constable is confident she has the resources to deal with this, but of course, we have lost 700 police officers over the last few years and maybe 1,000 in the police estate generally.”
Another reason behind the rise, Mrs Baird said, was the growing ability to sell stolen goods on websites such as eBay.
“It is just very easy now to sell stolen items like bikes and lawn mowers, to just put them on eBay and no one asks where they are from.
“We know this is linked to an upsurge in break-ins to sheds and the force targeted this.”
The latest figures emerged just one week after Northumbria Police announced a 3% fall in crime according to Home Office figures up to last June. They were presented to a meeting of the Police and Crime panel set up to scrutinise the commissioner.
Admitting the challenge before her force, Mrs Baird said: “The reality is those figures are out of date almost as soon as they are published. There are 31 forces in which crime is starting to go up and we are one of them.”
She added: “We have to ready for future meetings such as this to be discussing rises in crime.”