Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Crime costs us £59bn a year

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New Home Office research based on three categories of cost: anticipation of crime (e.g. burglar alarms); consequences of crime (e.g. value of property stolen/damaged) and response to crime (policing & justice).

Each murder costs £3.2m

It’s quite unusual for a month to go by without me receiving an email from a journalist, student, policy nerd or just an interested criminal justice bystander enquiring just how how much crime costs society.

In most cases, people are asking about the literal cost of crime to the economy rather than to the human cost to the lives (both victims & offenders) involved. Until this Monday (23 July 2018), I had to fob them off with a vague “we don’t really know and the figures we have are pretty old” response.

However, the Home Office has saved me (and all researchers doing any sort of cost benefit analysis of any intervention in the justice system) a lot of work with its new publication “The Economic and Social Costs of Crime”.

The report uses existing crime and cost data to update previous analysis by the Home Office to estimate the economic and social costs of different offences. It does not estimate the economic and social costs of every type of crime; it concentrates on more serious victim-based offences which are likely to have the largest economic and social costs. 

Costs have been estimated for crimes against individuals and, for a limited number of sectors, businesses. Those crimes which are not committed against an individual victim – so-called crimes against society – are excluded from the analysis; for example, possession of drugs. The report considers three main cost areas:

  1. Costs in anticipation of crime, for example the cost of burglar alarms.
  2. Costs as a consequence of crime, for example the cost of property stolen or damaged.
  3. Costs in response to crime, for example costs to the police and criminal justice system.

The total costs of crime in England and Wales in the 2015/16 are estimated to be approximately £50bn for crimes against individuals and £9bn for crimes against businesses. Violent crimes make up the largest proportion of the total costs of individual crime – almost three quarters – but only one third of the number of crimes. This is mainly due to the higher physical and emotional costs to the victims of violent offences. These costs are particularly high for crimes that are more likely to result in emotional injuries, such as rape and
violence with injury. The offence with the highest estimated unit cost is homicide (£3.2m). Rape (£39,360) has the highest estimated unit cost of non-fatal offences.

The Home Office calculations of the costs of different categories of offence against individuals (as opposed to businesses) are reproduced below:

Business crime

Thefts from businesses make up almost 90% of business crime but account for approximately half of the total estimated costs of crime against businesses (£4.2bn), as each crime has a low impact on society. In contrast, robberies and burglaries against businesses – estimated to cost £2bn and £1.6bn respectively – make up over 40% of the costs of crime, but account for only 5% of all crimes against businesses.

The overall cost of crime is falling

Although the new estimates adopt a similar overall approach to earlier attempts to calculate the costs of crime, they also include a number of improvements in data quality and cost estimation. In particular, these updated
figures use a more robust methodology for estimating the physical and emotional cost to victims and lost output costs, and include more complete estimates of the costs of crimes against businesses.

It is possible to estimate the change in the costs of crime over time by multiplying the estimated unit costs by the volumes between 2004/05 and 2015/16. The figure below shows the total estimated costs of crime against individuals (excluding fraud and cyber crime as these data are available for 2015/16 only) have fallen from £75bn in 2004/05 to £44bn in 2015/16. (These figures exclude crimes against business as the data are not collected across all sectors each year).

The fall in the total estimated costs of crime is as a result of the large fall in the number of crimes between 2004/05 and 2015/16. Violence with injury made up the largest proportion of the fall in estimated costs, accounting for around 40% of the reduction, despite only accounting for around 15% of the fall in volumes.

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