Shoplifting by people desperate for food is one of several categories of crime that are on the rise, according to provisional figures.
Staples such as milk, cheese and meat are among the stolen foodstuffs police are increasingly being called out to deal with, often by people with no previous records of crime.
The rise in shoplifting is just one of a “disturbing trend” of crime rises that have led to police chiefs being summoned to a Whitehall summit.
The meeting, chaired by Tom Winsor, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, is designed to give them an opportunity to discuss why some crimes are on the rise and what can be done to tackle them.
Unpublished figures, The Times reported, have also highlighted a sharp rise in burglaries and street robberies as thieves target tablets and smartphones.
The data also suggests a clear North-South divide with crime figures for the North on the rise while those in the South remain stable.
Steve Finnigan, Chief Constable of Lancashire, said that his region was one of those where there has been an increase in food theft.
“In my own force we have seen an increase in shoplifters who are first-time offenders and say they are doing it to put some food on the table” he was reported as saying.
The figures only cover April to September and he said they need to be treated with caution until there is data for a full year but he described the trends as disturbing.
Derbyshire is one area where crime is on the rise and where poverty is thought to be one of the driving forces. The county has suffered an overall increase in crime of two per cent year on year but in deprived areas the rise is as much as 15 per cent.
In the North West, which includes the Merseyside, Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Cumbria, and Cheshire police forces, the unconfirmed figures point to a 10.7 per cent increase in shoplifting, 7.8 per cent in theft, and 5.4 per cent in burglary compared to the same period last year. Shoplifting in Merseyside is said to be up 17.6 per cent.
The rises come after the publication of data earlier this year by the British Crime Survey showing that crime is at historically low levels.