Queen Elizabeth’s funeral draws attention to royal spending

Many Brits feel poorer and poorer. But their royal family is very rich indeed.

Now that the film show of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral has ended and the spasm of national grief over the death of a beloved monarch is beginning to subside, attention returns to the royal coffers, which are, for a certain slice of the British public, a perennial sore spot.

As is customary for state funerals, British taxpayers will pay the as yet undisclosed bill for 10 days of solemn and grandiose pageantry culminating in Monday’s funeral, a trio of elaborate ceremonies that culminated in the Queen’s burial in Windsor Castle. .

With hundreds of world leaders in attendance, including President Biden, and a mile-long queue of the Queen’s subjects waiting patiently for a chance to see her lying in the state, police officers have held London in what authorities believe was the largest security operation in the country.

With the British public and millions of spectators around the world learning the meaning of words like “bier”, “cortege” and “crucifer”, the government says the cost of the funeral will be revealed “in due course”.

It is clear that in the eyes of some even reporting the check is heretical.

“You can ask who pays for all this, or will you be arrested?” David Baddiel, a 58-year-old comedian, asked about a tweet that led to a heap of rage online.

Clearly, all that glitz and splendor wasn’t cheap.

Some estimates put the total cost – the funeral, along with the impending coronation of King Charles, a concomitant public holiday, and the expense of having to change the currency with the emblazoned image of a new ruler – at more than $ 6 billion.

That level of spending creates a jarring juxtaposition, with a series of cost-of-living increases set to plunge more Brits into poverty than ever.

The country is already facing an inflation rate of 8.6% in its consumer price index. In October, gas bills will rise by nearly a third, after a government-imposed ceiling on energy prices.

According to surveys, no fewer than 5.6 million people have been forced to give up a meal in the past three months and nearly 8 million have sold personal items to cover the cost of living. The Federation of Small Businesses, a corporate lobbying organization, says more than half of small businesses plan to stagnate, scale down, or simply shut down in the next year; Even hospitals and schools will struggle to keep their doors open.

In addition to funeral expenses, whatever they may be, the British government funds a so-called Sovereign Grant, an annual payment given to the royal family for official travel, maintenance of the property and operating costs of the monarch’s family.

For this year it amounted to nearly $ 100 million and included additional funds for the restoration of Buckingham Palace. Security costs are not included in this calculation, but are paid for by the government and are kept secret.

As in other parts of the Commonwealth and in the UK itself, this has galvanized anti-monarchists and those calling for a review of how much the British public should pay for their hereditary dynasty.

“We give royals a lot of money every year,” said Graham Smith, chief executive of Republic, a group that – as the name suggests – campaigns for the abolition of the UK monarchy and for a republic to take over. 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 fellow countrymen who are taxed at 40% on any part of a property worth more than £ 325,000, almost $ 370,000.

So, although state funerals are an accepted taxpayer expense, “it would be a useful gesture if [Charles] he was willing to offer compensation for this huge cost as we are struggling to pay for hospitals, police and schools, ”Smith said.

Another sore point for anti-realists is the sprawling possessions of the royal family. One of the major producers of money is the late Queen’s Duchy of Lancaster, which according to recent financial statements is worth around $ 740 million and made more than $ 27 million in profit; this now passes to Charles tax-free, depriving the exchequer, or treasury, of billions of revenue.

Another even more profitable holding is the Duchy of Cornwall, worth $ 1.3 billion and whose ownership was automatically transferred to Prince William once Charles ascended the throne, without paying corporate taxes. This is all in addition to other properties the crown holds but cannot sell, including Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, and two crown properties.

Other personal possessions passed from the late Queen to Charles include her investments, art collection, rare jewelry and 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 tourist attraction in the UK and that the Sovereign Fund costs just $ 1.50 per subject per year, a hardly problematic sum for such a legendary symbol of soft power. .

“I don’t really care how much this all costs,” tweeted Isabel Oakeshott, journalist and editor of the British channel Talk TV. “I can’t think of a better use of our taxes right now. It is simply who we are. “

The funeral and associated events, he wrote, “were a reminder of all that is beautiful about Britain. Tomorrow normalcy will return, with all the paralyzing bills, the waiting lists of the NHS and the delayed trains, but we can hold on to it ”.

The monarchy remains widely popular among Britons, with the latest polls suggesting around 68% have a positive opinion of the institution. Young people, however, are less enthusiastic than seniors, with less than half of young people aged 18-24 saying Britain should continue to have a monarchy, compared to 86% of those over 65.

There is no getting around the fact that real referrals are expensive. Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997 cost between 3 million and 5 million pounds in 1997, or between 7 and 8 million dollars when adjusted for inflation. In 2002, the Queen Mother cost about $ 10 million in today’s dollars, much of it for security.

But those are all dwarfed by the expenses surrounding the funeral of Britain’s longest-serving monarch, Elizabeth, who reigned for 70 years and 214 days.

In addition to the account of over 10,000 police officers, 1,500 army personnel and thousands of marshals and volunteers for the funeral alone, not to mention an elite contingent of the British Special Air Service waiting in the event of a terrorist attack, there is was another associated cost: the public holiday of the day of the funeral.

Most of the businesses have been closed together with the London Stock Exchange. For comparison, government data estimated that the June public holiday celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee experienced 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 public holidays may be linked to increased spending in restaurants and hotels, this was not the case here, he added, because the huge crowds made getting around so difficult.

To be sure, many vendors have readily accepted the idea of ​​closing for the day, including Ryan Boyle, a clothing salesman on Brick Lane.

“Look, I’m Irish, but I don’t hold a grudge against her,” the 59-year-old said. “She is dead and I am not. I am grateful for that and I don’t mind closing out of respect. “

Others seemed less optimistic. Pio, a Soho tailor who didn’t want his full name used for privacy reasons and to avoid alienating devoted and realistic customers, complained that he had to give his employees a day off for the funeral.

“I’m the one paying for it,” he said.

The new king has talked about a streamlined royal family, and also a less expensive coronation for himself, when it happens next spring or summer. But the overall costs of the actual transition – funeral, holiday weekend, coronation and new currency – “could get us 13 million nurses,” Smith said.

“It’s a one-way street,” he said of the royal family, “in terms of what we give and they take.”