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The economic and social costs of domestic abuse

Research Report 107

Authors: Rhys Oliver, Barnaby Alexander, Stephen Roe and Miriam Wlasny

This report aims to estimate the costs of domestic abuse in England and Wales for the year ending 31 March 2017 to highlight the impact of these crimes. It estimates the cost of domestic abuse for victims over this period to be approximately £66 billion.

The report follows the same underlying approach used in ‘The Economic and Social Costs of Crime’ (Heeks et al., 2018). However, there are some key differences that reflect the nature of domestic abuse.

The framework used in ‘The Economic and Social Costs of Crime’ (Heeks et al., 2018) divides the costs into three distinct areas:

  • Anticipation (expenditure on protective and preventative measures);
  • Consequence (property damage, physical and emotional harms, lost output, health and victim services);
  • Response (police and criminal justice system).

This same framework is used to estimate the costs of domestic abuse with similar methods applied.

The analysis relies on the information gathered through the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), both from the main survey and the interpersonal violence self-completion module. Information from the CSEW is used to calculate the likelihood of physical and emotional harm which are then used to estimate the costs of those harms (using the Quality Adjusted Life Year (QALY) method), the resulting health service costs and lost output.

Unlike many other crimes, domestic abuse is not a single time-limited event. While the ‘Economic and Social Costs of Crime’ report estimates the cost of individual incidents, the repeated and ongoing nature of domestic abuse makes it difficult to measure the precise number of incidents involved so the costs in this report relates to individual victims and the harms they will suffer during their period of abuse and the costs as a consequence and in response to victims. The average length of abuse for a victim is three years (SafeLives, 2018). During the period of abuse a number of offences can repeatedly occur. Due to the repeated nature of domestic abuse, there is likely to be an overlap between various injuries occurring and healing. To estimate the physical and emotional harms of these, an additive approach has been used. Each subsequent injury causes the same reduction in QALY as the initial injury, even if they overlap. This approach is consistent with the approach used to estimate the overlapping of injuries within the previous ‘Economic and Social Costs of Modern Slavery’ report (Reed, et al., (2018).

Overall, in the year ending 31 March 2017, domestic abuse is estimated to have cost over £66 billion in England and Wales (Table 1). The biggest component of the estimated cost is the physical and emotional harms incurred by victims (£47 billion), particularly the emotional harms (the fear, anxiety and depression experienced by victims as a result of domestic abuse), which account for the overwhelming majority of the overall costs. The cost to the economy is also considerable, with an estimated £14 billion arising from lost output due to time off work and reduced productivity as a consequence of domestic abuse. Some of the cost will be borne by Government such as the costs to health services (£2.3 billion) and the police (£1.3 billion). Some of the cost of victim services will also fall to Government, such as housing costs totalling £550 million, which includes temporary housing, homelessness services and repairs and maintenance. Victim services costs also include expenditure by charities and the time given up by volunteers to support victims.