Police minister says idea cost-of-living crisis will drive up theft is 'old fashioned'

ITV News Correspondent Rebecca Barry explores suggestions that the cost-of-living crisis could lead to a rise in certain forms of crime

The police minister has rebuked the chief inspector of constabulary's claim that the cost-of-living crisis will drive up theft of food, describing it as an "old fashioned" idea.

Kit Malthouse also disagreed with Andy Cooke’s suggestion that police officers should use "discretion" when deciding whether to prosecute those who steal to eat, telling ITV News "justice should be blind".

With inflation at a record 40-year high of 9%, Mr Cooke, who was appointed chief inspector of constabulary last month, told the Guardian that the soaring cost of living is sure to drive up theft.

“The impact of poverty, and the impact of lack of opportunity for people, does lead to an increase in crime. There’s no two ways about that," and he said officers should consider whether punishing desperate people is the best course of action.

“What they’ve got to bear in mind is what is the best thing for the community, and that individual, in the way they deal with those issues. And I certainly fully support police officers using their discretion – and they need to use discretion more often.”

Mr Malthouse agreed that officers should "use discretion", but added that Britain would "be in trouble" if it began letting thieves off the hook just because of their personal situation.

Asked about the idea that high prices will drive up crime, the Cabinet minister said: "I find that a bit old fashioned thinking from the 1970s and 1980s."

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The comments come as Britons face the biggest fall in living standards since 1956, with energy bills rocketing by around £700 and wages failing to keep up with sky-high inflation rates which have driven up the cost of every day items.

The cost of butter has risen by 11.8% in a year, according to the Retail Price Index, with many on Twitter pointing out that the cost of Lurpak in their local supermarket has jumped from £3.80 last year to £5.05 now.

The price of oils and other fats has also soared by 18.2% over the last year after fears of a shortage sparked by the war in Ukraine - one head chef Twitter user said "vegetable oil was £18.99 for 20 litres a month ago. Its now £48.99".

The rise across meat categories was clear: lamb was the worst hit, up 14.2%, followed by poultry (10.4%) and beef (9.8%) while pork got off with a lighter 4.9% rise.

And it appears supermarkets share concerns that higher prices in the fridges could see people decide to steal them, with one Twitter user's local Co-op opting to put GPS-tracked security boxes on their beef steaks.

Mr Cooke, a former chief constable of Merseyside police, said: "I think whenever you see an increase in the cost of living or whenever you see more people dropping into poverty, I think you’ll invariably see a rise in crime.

"And that’s going to be a challenge for policing to deal with," he said, but insisted he was not “giving a carte blanche for people to go out shoplifting”.

He added that "one of the great things about being a police officer, you’re allowed to make your own decisions in relation to all of these issues".

“There’s always individual cases where you can use your discretion that doesn’t necessarily result in a prosecution but is dealt with in the best way possible. And the shoplifting one’s a good example, isn’t it?”

Mr Malthouse disagreed, saying to ITV's Good Morning Britain that just “because people are challenged financially … that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to turn to crime.”

And he told LBC that he "wrote to chief constables just a year or so ago saying they should not be ignoring those seemingly small crimes".