LONDON (Reuters) - Violent crimes such as murder and knife attacks surged by 18 percent in England and Wales in the past year, the sharpest rise for a decade, according to official figures released on Thursday.

The increase comes amid heated rows about police funding and a fall in the number of officers, with opponents accusing Prime Minister Theresa May's government of putting the public at risk by slashing budgets.

Statistics from the 44 police forces showed there were more than 1.1 million violent crimes in the year to March 2017 with large increases also in robbery and sex crimes, while overall nearly five million offences were recorded, up by 10 percent from the year before.

"We recognise that crime is changing and we are determined to get ahead of new and emerging threats to the safety and security of our families and communities," said police minister Nick Hurd.


He said it was clear they needed to do more to tackle the issue.

Government figures show the number of police officers dropped by 19,000 between 2010 and 2016 as forces coped with smaller budgets, and the opposition Labour Party said the latest figures were "a damning indictment of the Tory (Conservative) record".

"The Tories simply aren't allowing the police to protect the public," Labour's home affairs spokeswoman Diane Abbott said.

"Despite promising to protect budgets, they continue to cut funding even as a senior figures in policing line up to warn they are overstretched and struggle to cope with demand."

Police chiefs have voiced concern about their resources following years of less money as the government cut public spending to reduce its budget deficit, while opponents say the decision to cap officers' pay has hit morale and recruitment.

"It's time for the government to admit the impact of these savage cuts and ensure our police have the funding they need to keep us safe," said Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman.

The official police numbers contradicted the findings of the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) which was also released on Thursday. The CSEW report, which is based on interviews with the public, appeared to suggest that crime was down by a third since 2010 when the Conservative Party came to power.

(Reporting by Cassandra Garrison, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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