DESPERATE young mums stealing baby food are among growing numbers of shoplifters stealing out of desperation, according to South Yorkshire Police.
It comes after The Star yesterday revealed the number of food banks in Sheffield has increased from three to 10 – feeding 80 families a week.
Officers said shoplifters were increasingly stealing essential items such as groceries, rather than luxury goods.
There were almost 350,000 cases of shoplifting recorded by police in the UK last year – which has remained relatively static in the last few years.
But South Yorkshire Police said there had been marked increases in some areas.
In Rotherham shoplifting has risen in the last 12 months and the town’s district commander thinks the rise has been fuelled by the economic downturn.
Chf Supt Jason Harwin said: “What we are seeing is a small number of individuals – particularly young mums – who are committing crimes to feed their children.
“If you look at powdered milk or baby food it’s quite expensive. These are individuals that have had no dealings with the police in their lives and this is the first offence they’ve ever committed.”
Police said most shoplifters were serial offenders who steal to support their drug addictions.
The Centre for Retail Research estimates in the six weeks running up to Christmas shoplifting will cost stores in the UK more than £500m.
“I think people have the idea that if somebody steals something worth £5 the shop has to find five pounds somewhere else,” said George Elliott, of Rotherham Voice, a business group.
“It is actually worse than that – they have to make £5 of profit.
“It affects prices in the stores so at the very, very basic level customers will have to pay more because of the theft.”
The Rotherham Food Bank helps families who are finding it difficult to make ends meet.
On the shelves alongside the tins and cans, it is also stocking nappies.
“One father came in and said ‘if I get some food and nappies then I won’t have to go down to the shop and steal, because I haven’t got anything’,” said Pastor Danny Miller, of Hope Church, who runs the food bank.
“Some people are getting so desperate these petty crimes are taking place.”
Both police and businesses said shoplifting was a crime they take very seriously and anyone caught will be prosecuted.