A POLICE inspector fears a rise in shoplifting for basic essentials when changes to the benefits system comes into force next year.

Insp Julie Mitchell spoke to councillors on a scrutiny commission about the impact of the current economic climate.

She said: "At the moment crime hasn't gone up but the full effect has not hit yet - we can all see this disaster coming towards us."

The changes are feared to lead to further pressure on people with low incomes, with a new benefit, the universal credit, being brought in to replace various benefits, including income support and job seekers' allowance.

Insp Mitchel said: "It is those people who would not have thought about turning to crime, but when short of basic essentials, there is a fear they

might do so.

"There is no specific research to refer to, we are making an assumption that when people are stretched some will turn to crime.

"I am in charge of a project on shoplifting for the borough and at the moment there is not a significant proportion of shoplifting for basic

essentials, it's more for alcohol.

"But we will be keeping a very close eye on it."

Don Allen, principal officer for the welfare rights service, added: "We do not want to scaremonger people but they could be more than £100 a

week worse off by next year."