Police should use ‘discretion’ if cost-of-living crisis fuels crime, watchdog says

Police should use ‘discretion’ if cost-of-living crisis fuels crime, watchdog says
Rising prices will ‘be challenge for policing to deal with’, Andy Cooke warns

The cost-of-living crisis will “invariably” fuel a rise in crime and police should use “discretion” when deciding whether to prosecute people desperate to eat, the new HM chief inspector of constabulary has said.

As inflation hit a 40-year high on Wednesday, which experts warned was unevenly impacting poorer households, Andy Cooke said that he expected a corresponding rise in petty crime will “be a challenge for policing to deal with”.

“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,” said Mr Cooke, a former chief constable of Merseyside Police who has worked in policing since 1985.

His prediction will come as a political blow to Boris Johnson, whose desire to appear tough and effective on crime has seen him accused by the statistics watchdog of making “misleading” claims that levels of criminality have fallen under his leadership – when in fact the opposite was true.

Asked how police could avoid being viewed as an extension of an uncaring state, Mr Cooke told The Guardian: “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 issue.

“I certainly fully support police officers using their discretion – and they need to use discretion more often.”

Mr Cooke said that 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”.

Elsewhere in the interview, Mr Cooke – who took over as chief inspector of the constabulary last month – said that he hoped to pull the current charge rate of 6 per cent for recorded offences up to 20 per cent, and to ensure that every burglarly victim is visited by the police.

He also reportedly lamented that policing was still recovering from Conservative-led cuts, and warned that surges in inflation and fuel prices were likely to impact police budgets.

His comments came as Rishi Sunak resisted increasing pressure from his own benches to do more to help households struggling with soaring prices, including calls from Tory MPs for a windfall tax on energy firms’ profits, the immediate reinstatement of the £20 Universal Credit uplift and a trebling of the Winter Fuel Payment.

But Conservative MPs nevertheless obeyed orders to vote down Labour’s demands for an emergency budget to tackle the crisis, as well as Liberal Democrat proposals to slash VAT from 20 to 17.5 per cent to save the average family £600.

At PMQs, Sir Keir Starmer urged Mr Johnson to stop dithering and make an “inevitable U-turn” on a windfall tax on energy firms, highlighting differing views within Cabinet and describing their position as “clear as mud”. The prime minister said that “all sensible measures” will be looked at.

Moving Labour’s amendment to the Queen’s Speech shortly afterwards, which included the call for an emergency budget, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves claimed the crisis was a “consequence of Conservative decisions and the direction that they have taken our economy in over the last 12 years”.

Ms Reeves accused the government of being “increasingly a rudderless ship heading to the rocks, while it is willing to watch people financially drown in the process”.

Speaking at the CBI’s annual dinner hours later, the chancellor spoke of a “perfect storm” of supply shocks rocking Britain and warned that “the next few months will be tough”.

Mr Sunak told businesses “we are on your side” as he urged them to “invest, train and innovate more”, promising to “cut your taxes to encourage you to do all those things” in the autumn budget.

He added: “Our role in government is to cut costs for families. I cannot pretend this will be easy. The next few months will be tough, but where we can act, we will.”

Additional reporting by PA