MORE food is being stolen from city stores in a “worrying trend” linked to rising numbers of people struggling to afford to eat.

The shoplifting of food has risen 21 per cent in Oxford with 463 cases last year up on the 382 in 2012.

Yet the value of food taken has doubled – from a total of £9,635.98 in 2012 to £19,267.85 last year.

It comes as food banks report a rise in the number of people they help.

Ed Turner, Oxford City Council member for Rose Hill, said last night: “Clearly these figures are concerning.

“Firstly theft is wrong. It is unfair on the shops and it is unfair on those who pay for goods. Those who commit theft clearly need to be punished. Secondly it probably does show people in poverty are increasingly suffering.

“That fits in with what I hear about more people turning to food banks to feed themselves and their families.”

Meat products are stolen more than any other items making up at least 196 of the 463 food thefts from January to November last year.

Oxford East MP Andrew Smith said: “It is alarming to see such a sharp rise in food theft.

“Research in other parts of the country has shown a link between this and increased deprivation, as more people struggle to make ends meet and feed their families, partly as a result of benefit cuts.”

He urged anyone facing such difficulties to go to a food bank.

David Cairns, chairman of the Oxford Foodbank, fears someone tried to break into its premises last month. Police were not informed.

He said: “We are continuing to expand the number of people we are helping.”

Rangid Singh, of Rose Hill’s Turna Superstores, said thieves were more likely to target city centre stores, but added: “Everywhere there are people stealing so we have cameras.”

Police spokeswoman Rhianne Pope would not comment on why food thefts were rising but said: “Thames Valley Police works closely with shops throughout the area to tackle shoplifting. There is a radio network for shops in Oxford city centre to liaise over shoplifting.”

Even the force has had its own problem. Last year Thames Valley PCSO Andrew Clark was fined £265 after admitting to shoplifting a chicken Madras curry, two bottles of milk and a sandwich from Kidlington’s Sainsbury’s supermarket near his work.

The Trussell Trust, which runs Bicester and Banbury foodbanks, said the number of people relying on the Bicester bank rose from 1,087 to 1,951 in 2012/2013, while the number using the Banbury bank rose from 199 in 2011/2012 to 928 in 2012/2013.