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Martin Lewis today warned the cost of living crisis could cause ‘civil unrest’ as a police chief predicted a surge in crime – but told officers to consider turning a blind eye to shoplifters stealing food out of desperation.
Andy Cooke, the new chief inspector of constabulary, said there are ‘no two ways about’ the impact of poverty leading to an increase in offending and that he ‘fully support officers using their discretion’ for people stealing food to eat.
But he was slapped down by policing minister Kit Malthouse, who accused Mr Cooke of ‘old-fashioned thinking’ for stating that the economic shock will lead to more crime, as he insisted officers should enforce the law in all instances.
Meanwhile, as inflation hit a 40-year high of nine per cent, money saving expert Mr Lewis warned Britons were ‘desperate’ and ‘angry’, and said a predicted rise in the energy price cap this winter from £1,971 to £2,600 could be the final straw.
‘I worry about civil unrest,’he told Robert Peston’s ITV show last night.
‘So the government needs to get a handle on it, and they need to get a handle on it quickly, they need to listen, and they need to stop people making choices of whether they feed themselves or feed their children.
‘And we are in that now. We used to have a relative poverty condition in this country and we are moving to absolute poverty, and we cannot allow that to happen.’
Money saving expert Martin Lewis said he feared ‘civil unrest’ if the energy price cap goes up again in the winter
In an interview with the Guardian, Mr Cooke had said he was not ‘giving a carte blanche for people to go out shoplifting’, but wanted officers to ensure cases were ‘dealt with in the best way possible’.
‘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,’ he said.
‘And that’s going to be a challenge for policing to deal with.’
On his advice for officers, Mr Cooke added: ‘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.’
But he was criticised by Mr Malthouse, who told LBC: ‘I’m afraid I find it a bit old-fashioned thinking. We first of all believe the law should be blind and police officers should operate without fear or favour in prosecution of the law.
‘Secondly it’s not quite right to say that as the economy fluctuates so does crime. We’ve seen economic problems in the past, or not, when crime has risen, or not.’
Asked if ministers will ensure police do not turn a blind eye to shoplifters stealing food, he replied: ‘Absolutely right. In fact I wrote to chief constables just a year or so ago saying they should not be ignoring those seemingly small crimes.’
Andy Cooke, the new chief inspector of constabulary, (left) was slapped down today by Kit Malthouse (right) for suggesting police should turn a blind eye to shoplifters
Mr Malthouse told Times Radio the ‘cost-of-living problems people are facing are very difficult for households up and down the land – that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to turn to crime’.
Amid growing calls for the Government to go further to support the most vulnerable throughout the crisis, Mr Malthouse insisted that ministers were providing support to families.
But he added: ‘It still doesn’t mean that we can solve every problem, it’s still going to be hard, it’s going to be tough for families, and what we have to hope is that this storm of inflation will pass quite quickly.’
Mr Cooke has worked in policing since 1985 including as Chief Constable of Merseyside Police until taking over as HM chief inspector of constabulary from Sir Tom Winsor in April.
It comes as ministers examined a triple tax cut to ease the cost of living crisis.
Rishi Sunak is already drawing up plans for a major package to help with energy bills in July, potentially by cutting council tax.
But last night the Chancellor told business leaders he would cut their taxes in the autumn to prompt the investment needed to head off a recession.
Inflation has hit a 40-year high of nine per cent, according to figures released yesterday by the ONS
And a government source also said Boris Johnson was considering an emergency tax cut for poorer families this summer.
One option under examination is a change to Universal Credit rules to let three million workers keep more of their earnings.
It came as Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for work and pensions, warned Britons were facing a ‘cost-of-living tsunami’, with real wages now almost £300 lower than they were 15 years ago.
‘By refusing to take action on the cost of living through an emergency budget, Rishi Sunak has shown once again the Tories simply aren’t on the side of working people,’ he added.
Mr Sunak warned that he could not ‘protect people completely’ from the cost of living squeeze. ‘There is no measure any government could take, no law we could pass, that can make these global forces disappear overnight,’ he told CBI business leaders.
‘The next few months will be tough. But where we can act, we will.’
According to the Retail Price Index, potatoes were one of the very few household grocery staples to drop in price over the year to April – down 1.2 per cent. But overall food prices rose 6.8 per cent, with meats, oils and some animal products especially hit