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Economic cost of domestic abuse

Reported cases of domestic abuse have risen since and pandemic with lockdown measures exacerbating existing pressures and tensions at home — impacting both survivors and perpetrators of abuse [1]. As well as concerns for individual safety and wellbeing, the economic cost of domestic abuse must also be considered. It is estimated that in the year ending 2017, the economic cost of domestic abuse in the UK was £66 billion per year [2]. These costs span from legal aid, policing, and long-term health implications for survivors of abuse, but are likely to be widely underestimated by statisticians and policymakers due to the clandestine nature of these crimes.

ONS data published in 2019 details how this estimation was calculated, aligning with research from ‘The Economic and Social Costs of Crime’ (Heeks et al., 2018). The cost of domestic abuse is split three ways:

  1. Anticipation - this includes preventative measures.

  2. Consequence - consequential costs cover the physical and emotional harm to health and loss of property and damage.

  3. Response - this includes policing and the criminal justice system itself.

The ONS describes physical and emotional harm as the ‘overwhelming majority’ of the cost of domestic abuse at 71% of the overall cost, equating to £47 billion [3]. This covers mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, two of the most common mental health issues in England (See: domestic abuse and mental health). Due to the severity and longevity of these issues, it is crucial that funding is well allocated and exacerbated fully, as mental ill health continues to be regarded as the single largest cause of disability in the UK [4].

By estimates made in 2016/17, the ONS reported that for every survivor of domestic abuse there is an economic cost of £34,015 [5]. This is an accumulation of physical and emotional harm, working hours lost and the strain on legal aid services, including injunctions and support. Cuts in legal aid in the past decade have been disastrous for the criminal justice system, with many victims urged to pursue civil action as opposed to criminal prosecution in order to relieve the backlog as a result of the pandemic [6]. The limited access to financial aid means that survivors of domestic violence do not receive comprehensive and fair access to justice.

To tackle this, charities, campaigners and policymakers have worked tirelessly to enact legislative change. For example, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 was given royal assent as of April this year and promises better treatment, quality of care and justice for victims. It is estimated by the UK government that the implementation of measures outlined in the act will total £247-£300 million per year [7]. This cost is estimated to be outweighed with a 0.3% reduction in domestic abuse, granting relief to victims and easing financial pressure on the criminal justice system. Key changes to current legislation have been heralded as a great step forward for women’s rights, including the removal of the ‘rough sex defence’, the evolution of ‘revenge porn’ offences, and statutory authority granted to ‘Clare’s Law’. Sandra Horley, CBE of Refuge UK, has described the Bill as “a real opportunity to cement support for addressing domestic abuse” [8].



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