Retailers are facing a £1bn crime wave over Christmas with police warning of a new spike in shoplifting caused by families hit by the economic crisis.

A study by the Centre for Retail Research estimates losses from crime in the UK in the six weeks from mid-November to the end of December will be as high as £999.7 million, up 3.4% compared to 2011.

Shoplifting, it said, will account for more than half of the figure, with £522.5m worth of good set to be stolen.

“What we are seeing is a small number of individuals - particularly young mums - who are committing crimes to feed their children,” said Ch Supt Jason Harwin, of South Yorkshire Police.

“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.”

Rotherham was today singled out as one area badly affected, with a 28% increase in retail crime in the past year, which Harwin claims has been fuelled by the economic downturn.

Recently the BRC called for measures to get a better understanding of the full extent of retail crime and the impact they have on communities, warning that business crime was still not included in police strategic plans.

It estimates retail crime cost retailers £1.4bn in 2010/11, the equivalent to 130,000 full time retail jobs.