AN INCREASING number of people have been caught shoplifting in York for the first time and stealing food to survive, according to a senior crime analyst.

Ian Cunningham, of Safer York Partnership, said in the three or four months running up to Christmas, 200 different people were arrested for shoplifting – 170 of whom were first-timers unknown to the police.

He told councillors that many were stealing food items, adding: “They were stealing to survive.”

Jane Mowat, director of the partnership at City of York Council, said shoplifting statistics for 2013 suggested 344 individuals committed a York shoplifting offence who had not come to the police’s attention for that offence in the previous 12 months.

“This is out of a total of 521 individuals who were arrested for shoplifting in 2013 and is a higher proportion – 66 per cent – than figures in 2012, with 48 per cent,” she said.

The statistics show that of the 344 shoplifters arrested for the first time, 37 per cent had been caught at supermarkets or convenience stores, compared with 28 per cent at clothing stores, 17 per cent at cosmetics stores/chemists and 19 per cent at generic retail premises.

Ms Mowat revealed that December had seen one of the city’s lowest Christmas shoplifting levels since 2003, with levels especially low within the city-centre shopping area – reflecting its success in dealing with prolific offenders.

The theft of basic foodstuffs is a higher proportion of goods stolen for this group of offenders than for other shoplifters.

She said when people had been arrested for shoplifting, there could be a “community resolution disposal” where both the victim and the offender were happy to give and receive a written or verbal apology, compensation or an arrangement for voluntary work to be undertaken with the victim.

Father Tim Jones, parish priest of St Lawrence and St Hilda, who hit the headlines around the world in 2009 when he advised society’s most vulnerable and needy people to shoplift, said yesterday: “We all need to be careful not to judge too quickly, and to help each other where we can. Many people believe a myth that the welfare state is watertight, providing a constant supply of generous benefits to everyone in need.

"That has never been true, and things are getting much harder, even for people who never imagined that things would become so desperate for themselves.”

He said the good news was that a strong network of foodbanks had been developed, largely by local churches and supported by supermarkets, schools and the wider community.

“I urge anyone who is struggling to contact their local foodbank.”

Steve Allitt, welfare benefits adviser at York Citizens Advice Bureau, based at West Offices, said: “There is an increasing problem with the cost of living rises, fuel bills, food etc, and it is getting hard for some people to make ends meet.

“People should make us their first port of call because there may be unclaimed benefits they are not aware of and we can negotiate with creditors.”

The Citizen’s Advice helpline is 08444 111444 and there is a drop-in session every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 9.30am at West Offices CAB.