A sharp rise in muggings and pickpocketing in 2008, as well as a recent increase in burglaries, has added to fears that Britain could be facing a “credit crunch crimewave” because of the recession and soaring unemployment.

British Crime Survey figures released on Thursday by the Home Office show that the number of so-called “thefts from the person” was 25 per cent higher last year than in 2007. This compares with a rise of just 1 per cent between 2006 and 2007.

At the same time, the survey showed that both domestic and non-domestic burglaries had risen by 4 per cent in the three months to December. Burglaries rose by a similar amount in the previous three months to September, which means they have risen for consecutive quarters for the first time in seven years.

Norwich Union, the insurer, said on Thursday burglaries could rise by as much as 50 per cent this year based on its experience of the recession of the early 1990s and the impact of widespread unemployment on crime.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said Britain faced a “credit crunch crimewave” and needed more police on the street.

Total crime in the three months to December fell by 4 per cent but critics pointed to the rise in burglaries, personal theft and a 5 per cent increase in robberies involving knives as part of a worrying trend.

The government has so far rejected the correlation between an economic downturn and more crime, but Vernon Croaker, a Home Office minister, said on Thursday: “We know we are facing some new challenges now and are focusing our experience and knowledge to tackle these head-on. That is why we have already responded to early concerns about burglary – working with police, charities, DIY stores and insurers to increase enforcement activity, target repeat offenders and give practical advice to help people secure their homes.”

The Home Office argued that some crime trends could be used to make the opposite case of a recessionary effect. As well as pointing to the overall decline in crime, it said robbery and vehicle crime – which could also be linked to the economy – had fallen. However, the rate of decline in the robbery figures slowed markedly over 2008, from a 19 per cent fall in the three months to March to a drop of just 2 per cent in the final quarter.

Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, said the rise in knife robberies “undermined” Labour’s claims to be getting to grips with knife crime, although overall violent crime fell 6 per cent in the final quarter of 2008.

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