Citing new research that shows that an "increase in the stock of stealable goods" was an important factor in theft figures, Mr Straw, 53, linked lower crime rates in his childhood with the fact that people had fewer possessions. "One of the reasons there wasn't much crime on the estate where I grew up in the 1950s was that there were not many stealable goods," he told the Northern Echo newspaper. "We didn't have TVs or cars, we had bikes, and if we had a radio it was the size of the house.
"Occasionally purses were stolen, there was domestic violence and neighbour disputes and we kept our bikes locked up but yes, I think we did leave our door open."
Last night shadow home office minister David Lidington accused Labour of backtracking on its stance linking crime to social exclusion. "Labour can't make up their minds about what causes crime," he said. "In opposition New Labour argued that crime was a product of social disadvantage - they even made a song and dance of creating a Social Exclusion Unit to show that this was the case.
"But now, two years into Government, with classic socialist rhetoric, it seems they have changed their minds. Now the Home Secretary says crime is the product of economic success.
"This will come as a great surprise to all those who have worked hard to provide comfortable lives for their families."
Mr Straw suggested that "economic activity" was a pressure pushing up crime figures. "There's much debate about this, but there seems to be some relationship between the stock of stealable goods and acquisitive crime. After a period of economic activity there are far more items that can be stolen, like videos and televisions and even now digital TV set- top boxes."
Fear of crime was less when he was growing up on a council estate in Loughton, Essex, he said. "We used to walk everywhere - if we didn't have a bike the only alternative was public transport - and we used to spend hours playing in Epping Forest. There were dirty old men about and they were a hazard we had to deal with, whereas these days, quite understandably, parents are much more cautious."Reuse content