The number of police officers in England and Wales has declined by over 1,200 over the last six months, official figures have shown.

According to Home Office data, the number of police officers in 43 forces across England and Wales stood at 121,929 on 30 September last year, compared with 123,142 on 31 March 2017.

The figure is also 16% lower than that recorded in 2009, when the number of police officers employed reached its peak.

The Metropolitan Police alone accounted for over 50% of the drop, with 646 officers leaving the force, the largest in England and Wales, between March and September last year.

In terms of percentages, North Yorkshire Police and West Midlands Police suffered the biggest decline, with numbers falling 4.1% and 3.7% respectively.

The Home Office has stated that while no more central funding would be made available for the pay settlement, recruitment and retention figures had remained "stable" throughout 2017.

However, senior police figures have repeatedly warned a lack of sufficient funds was leaving the forces overstretched, which could pose a risk given the rise of violent crime and a continuing terrorist threat.

"Police chiefs recognise that the policing settlement for this year is better than last year and we have welcomed the potential to increase resources," said a National Police Chiefs' Council spokesman.

"However, differences in the makeup of funding between forces mean that the increase in budgets will vary between 1.6% and 3.6%, and forces are still facing difficult choices.

"The impact on police officer numbers cannot be assessed until force budgets are finalised when police chiefs and commissioners will jointly review their options."

A Home Office spokeswoman, meanwhile, said traditional crime had declined by 40% over the past seven years and that the funding for the next few years would give forces "the resources they need to respond to changes in demand".

However, the opposition Labour Party insisted the latest figures proved the government was dangerously "out of touch" with reality.

"Once again we see how out of touch the Conservatives are with the lives of people across this country," said the shadow policing minister, Louise Haigh.

"Over 1,200 officers lost in just six months, more than 21,000 in total under this Tory government, against a backdrop of the highest rises in recorded crime in a decade.

"And yet ministers apparently think everything's fine. Labour in government will add 10,000 police officers and provide the resources they need."