Many Britons feel increasingly poor. But his royal family is really very rich.
Now that the cinematic extravaganza of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral is over, and the spasm of national grief over the death of a beloved monarch is beginning to subside, attention is turning to the royal coffers, which are, for a certain part of the British public, a perennial sore spot.
As is customary for state funerals, British taxpayers will foot the as-yet-undisclosed bill for 10 days of solemn and grandiose pomp that culminated in Monday’s funeral, a trio of elaborate ceremonies ending with the queen’s burial at Castle of Windsor.
With hundreds of world leaders in attendance, including President Biden, and a mile-long line of the queen’s subjects patiently waiting for a chance to see her in bed, police officers blanketed London in what authorities say was the operation of largest security in the country.
With the British public and millions of viewers around the world having learned the meaning of words like ‘catafalque’, ‘courtship’ and ‘crucifer’, the government says the cost of the funeral will be released ‘in due course’. .
It is clear that in the eyes of some, even signing for the check is heretical.
“Is one allowed to ask who is paying for all this, or will one be arrested?” David Baddiel, a 58-year-old comedian, inquired about a tweet that sparked anger online.
Clearly, all that pomp and splendor didn’t come cheap.
Some estimates put the total cost (the funeral, along with the upcoming coronation of King Charles, an attendant bank holiday, and the expense of having to change currency into the stamped image of a new sovereign) at more than $6 billion.
That level of spending makes for a jarring juxtaposition, with a series of cost-of-living rises destined to push more Britons into poverty than ever before.
The country already faces an inflation rate of 8.6% in its Consumer Price Index. In October, gas bills will rise by nearly a third, and that’s after a government-imposed cap on energy prices.
No less than 5.6 million people have been forced to give up a meal in the last three months, and nearly 8 million have sold personal items to cover the cost of living, surveys show. The Federation of Small Businesses, a business lobbying organization, says that more than half of small businesses expect to stagnate, downsize or simply close in the next year; Even hospitals and schools will have a hard time keeping their doors open.
Beyond funeral costs, whatever they may be, the British government funds the so-called Sovereign Grant, an annual payment given to the royal family for official travel, property upkeep and running costs of the monarch’s household.
For this year, it amounted to almost $100 million and included additional funds for the restoration of Buckingham Palace. Security costs are not included in that calculation, but are paid by the government and kept secret.
As in other parts of the Commonwealth and the UK itself, all of this has galvanized anti-monarchists and those calling for a re-examination of how much the British public should pay for their hereditary dynasty.
“We give royalty a huge amount of money every year,” said Graham Smith, chief executive of Republic, a group that, as its name suggests, campaigns for the UK to end its monarchy and a republic to take over. its place. with an elected head of state.
Smith noted that Charles, under an agreement made with the government in 1993, will not have to pay inheritance tax, unlike his countrymen who pay a 40% tax on any part of an estate valued at more than $325,000. pounds, almost $370,000.
So while state funerals are an accepted expense for taxpayers, “it would be a helpful gesture if [Charles] was willing to offer some compensation for this huge cost, given that we are struggling to pay for hospitals, police and schools,” Smith said.
Another sore spot for anti-royalists is the expanding estates of the royal family. One of the main sources of income is the late queen’s Duchy of Lancaster, which according to recent financial statements is worth approximately $740 million and made more than $27 million in profits; this now passes to Charles tax-free, depriving the treasury, or treasury, of billions in revenue.
An even more lucrative possession is the Duchy of Cornwall, valued at $1.3 billion and whose ownership automatically passed to Prince William once Charles came to the throne, without paying corporate taxes. All of that is on top of other properties the crown owns but cannot sell, including Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace and two crown estates.
Other personal assets that passed from the late queen to Charles include her investments, art collection, jewelery and rare stamps, as well as Balmoral Castle in Scotland. The total fortune is estimated to be around $28 billion.
Monarchists, however, point out that the royal family is a major draw for UK tourism and that the Sovereign Fund costs as little as $1.50 per subject per year, an hardly problematic sum for such a famous symbol of power. soft.
“I don’t really care how much any of this costs,” tweeted Isabel Oakeshott, a journalist and editor for Britain’s Talk TV channel. “I can’t think of a better use of our taxes right now. It’s just who we are.”
The funeral and associated events, he wrote, “have been a reminder of all that is good about Britain. Tomorrow it will be business as usual, with all its crippling bills, NHS waiting lists and delayed trains, but we can hang on to this.”
The monarchy still very popular among Britons, with the latest polls suggesting that around 68% have a positive view of the institution. However, younger people are less enthusiastic than older people, with less than half of 18-24 year olds saying Britain should continue to have a monarchy, compared to 86% of those over 65.
There’s no getting around the fact that royal farewells are expensive. Princess Diana’s 1997 funeral cost £3-5 million in 1997, or $7-8 million when adjusted for inflation. In 2002, the Queen Mother cost an estimated $10 million in today’s dollars, much of it for security.
But they are all dwarfed by expenses related to the funeral of Britain’s longest-serving monarch, Elizabeth, who reigned for 70 years and 214 days.
In addition to the tally of more than 10,000 police, 1,500 military and thousands of bailiffs and volunteers for the funeral alone, not to mention a contingent of Britain’s elite Special Air Service on standby in case of terrorist attacks, there was another cost associated. . : the public holiday of the day of the funeral.
Most of the companies were closed along with the London Stock Exchange. For comparison, government data estimated that the bank holiday in June celebrating the queen’s Platinum Jubilee caused a 0.6% drop in the country’s gross domestic product.
“It costs a lot of people a lot of money, especially small businesses,” Smith said. And while the holidays may be linked to increased spending on restaurants and hotels, this was not the case here, he added, because the huge crowds made movement very difficult.
To be sure, many vendors readily accepted the idea of closing for the day, including Ryan Boyle, a clothing vendor on Brick Lane.
“Look, I’m Irish, but I don’t hold a grudge against him,” the 59-year-old said. She is dead and I am not. I’m grateful for that and I don’t mind closing out of respect.”
Others seemed less optimistic. Pio, a Soho tailor who did not want his full name used for privacy reasons and to avoid alienating staunch royalist clients, complained about having to give his employees a day off for the funeral.
“I’m the one paying for it,” he said.
The new king has spoken of a reduced royal family, and also of a less expensive coronation for him, when it takes place next spring or summer. But the overall costs of the actual transition — funeral, holiday weekend, coronation and new currency — “could give us 13 million nurses,” Smith said.
“It’s very much a one-way street,” he said of the royal family, “in terms of what we give and they take.”