Burglary losses were more than pounds 1bn in 1992, with car crime costing pounds 775m in the same year, according to the study, carried out for Crime Concern, the national crime-prevention organisation. Arson losses accounted for pounds 500m, with school fires alone costing pounds 30m; businesses are thought to lose up to pounds 10bn annually through fraud.
Researchers analysed existing crime statistics and reports to produce a study of the overall costs. The pounds 20bn total, however, is likely to be an underestimate if the cost of unreported offences, ill-health and time off work were to be included, they believe.
The report, Counting the Cost, concludes: 'At national level crime-related financial losses and expenditure incurred by public and private sectors is huge.'
Most of the amounts have substantially risen in the past few years, in all the main categories identified in the study, which was carried out for Crime Concern by Thames Valley Partnership, a charitable organisation.
Losses from burglary in domestic and commercial property were more than pounds 1bn in 1992. The average loss from each home was pounds 1,130 - totalling more than pounds 600m. Only 4 per cent of stolen property was recovered and only 9 per cent of the pounds 450m stolen from commercial property was found.
The cost of the criminal justice system, which includes the police, prisons and the Crown Prosecution Service, was more than pounds 9bn in 1991-92. Car crime was estimated at pounds 775m in 1992 when there were an estimated 3.8 million offences with 2.4 million thefts from vehicles and more than 500,000 thefts of vehicles.
The Confederation of British Industry and Crime Concern estimate that businesses are losing from pounds 5bn to pounds 10bn annually through crime. This includes fraud, theft, security, damaged stock and property, and cheque and credit card fraud. An estimated pounds 1.6bn was spent on security by individuals in the private sector in 1988. The largest expenditure was on alarms, security transport, guards and patrols and locks.
The report says many categories, however, cannot be quantified. The authors note: 'Putting a monetary value on the effects of violence is inevitably a contentious and subjective process. Whilst one can quantify the cost of time lost from work and medical expenses, it is much less easy to agree the compensation value of an injury.'
About one-third of all victims of crime, it is believed, have to see a doctor and 4 per cent are admitted to hospital. The survey also showed that 3 per cent of victims of personal crime took two or more days off.
In addition, vandalism is estimated to cost millions of pounds every year, although no national statistics are available. Difficulties also arise because of the lack of official crime data: for example, in 1992 it is estimated only 50 per cent of offences were reported and only 30 per cent of those were recorded, the study says.
The report further emphasises that white-collar crime frequently goes unnoticed or ignored; little data is kept about tax evasion and benefit fraud and financial institutions are reluctant to release information about credit card thefts.
One particular area of concern is local government, where huge losses, such as those caused by vandalism, are not recorded.