A POLICE commissioner has blamed the Government’s welfare reforms for a 35 per cent jump in shoplifting, claiming thieves are “stealing to live”.

Ron Hogg, Labour Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Durham, said usually law-abiding people were turning to crime because they were unable to feed themselves – and blamed the Coalition’s benefit changes, including the so-called bedroom tax.

Mr Hogg admitted there was no evidence of a direct link but said: “Shoplifting is up 35 per cent year on year and an awful lot of people are stealing to live.”

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He added: “We predicted this tax would cause massive problems for some of the most vulnerable in our society.

“With more welfare reform yet to be implemented the situation will only get worse.”

Mr Hogg’s claims were supported by Barry Coppinger, Labour PCC for Cleveland, where there has been a 7.3 per cent rise in shoplifting.

He said: “Deep and relentless welfare reforms have a knock-on effect on other crimes, particularly shoplifting, as families turn to the black market to buy food and other items they can’t afford in the shops.”

The Conservative Party referred enquiries to the Home Office, which said it was a matter for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), where a spokesman said there was absolutely no evidence linking welfare reforms to increased crime.

He said the reforms were guaranteeing a strong welfare net and £345m had been given to councils to help the most vulnerable.

“Ending the spare room subsidy was absolutely necessary in order to get the soaring housing benefit bill under control, returning fairness to the system and making better use of social housing stock.

“These rules already applied to the housing benefit claimants in the private sector – introduced by the previous Government.”

Rebecca Coulson, the prospective Tory parliamentary candidate for Durham City, said: "It's never sensible to make excuses for criminal behaviour, or to imply that shoplifting is acceptable.

"We all still live in straitened times, following the recession, but the Conservative long term economic plan is working."

A recent DWP report found 522,905 households were affected by the so-called bedroom tax by last August and nearly a fifth of claimants had registered an interest in downsizing.

More than half of claimants had cut back on household essentials, a quarter had borrowed money and three per cent had taken pay day loans.

Mr Hogg and Mr Coppinger advised people to use credit unions.

In Durham, about 100 female shoplifters have avoided being charged by sitting a life issues course.