Text by Marco Marcelline / Illustration by Rhia Thomas
The country is either celebrating or ignoring the coronation of King Charles III today, and given the regal affair is reportedly set to cost taxpayers a whopping £100 million in the middle of a cost of living crisis that has sent millions into poverty, it’s not a surprise that the mood is decidedly more muted than previous royal events.
The situation for a lot of UK households is stark. According to The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s cost of living tracker 2022/2023, 7.2 million households are going without the basics, while 4.7 million are behind on their bills. And according to the bank TSB, young people are seven times more likely to have taken out new or additional debt in the past 12 months, or expect to, than their grandparents. 16-24 year olds also spend, on average, 47% of their gross income each month on rent, which dwarves the national average of 33%.
As the Big Issue reports, the median monthly rent in England between October 2021 and September 2022 was £800, which is higher than any other point in history – and it’s only going up; in the year leading up to February 2023, private rent rates rose 4.7%. And people literally can’t pay. Demonstrating this depressing reality, there were 5,409 landlord possessions between October and December 2022.
Given a flatlining economy, a large majority (73%) of Brits think the Royal Family should pay for some or all of the coronation, with a significant 61% responding that, if given the option, they would rather their taxes go elsewhere instead of the coronation.
It’s true that fewer and fewer people are throwing their weight behind the monarchy. According to a new YouGov poll, over half of Brits (52%) aren’t interested in King Charles’s coronation. Just 15% have said they are “very interested”.
There’s been a considerable amount of online backlash around the cost and extravagance of the coronation, and the exorbitant amount of spending that will be required to host it. “The fact that King Charles is being allowed to have a lavish coronation in the midst of a cost of living crisis is absolutely disgusting,” said one Twitter user. “Insufficient money for doctors but we can spend millions on this,” someone else added on Twitter.
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The true cost of the Royals
As The Guardian reported in its Cost of the Crown series, Elizabeth II and Charles III have milked cash payments worth more than £1.2 billion from two hereditary estates that don’t pay any tax. Last year, the late Queen and King Charles received £21 million each from the duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, which have for years been under debate over whether they should actually belong to the British state.
Meanwhile, as one in five of the UK population lives in poverty, King Charles III had been set to receive an extra £250 million next year in taxpayer money, on top of the £86 million the monarch usually receives each year. The King rejected the huge cash advance in light of the cost of living crisis.
That said, an already pushed-back review of royal financing has been postponed until after the May coronation and, as The Guardian notes, the palace is refusing to release details of how much the King will actually receive in taxpayer money this year.
The £250 million extra the King had been set to receive came because of increases agreed by former Prime Minister David Cameron and his chancellor George Osborne, to a fund called the Sovereign Grant.
The Sovereign Grant is a set percentage of profits from the Crown Estate that is given back to the Royal Family each year. This is taken from money that otherwise would be going into funding public services like hospitals and schools.
As Al Jazeera notes, actual spending on the royal family varies each year depending on whether there’s a big royal event (like a funeral, wedding, or coronation) that needs extensive security or like when the royals are required to make diplomatic visits abroad.
The Sovereign Grant does not include the cost of security for the royal family year-round and therefore the full cost of the royal family to the taxpayer is not known. Republic, a campaign group advocating for the abolishment of the monarchy, has argued that the estimated total cost of the monarchy is about £345 million.
The Sovereign Grant originates from a nearly three-hundred-year-old agreement made by King George III and the British Government in 1760 to give up income from the monarchy’s properties in return for a fixed annual payment.
The Monarchy’s properties are called the Crown Estate and while they are owned by the monarch, it is not their private property. The Crown Estate is independently managed by a board that is approved by the monarch on the advice of the prime minister.
The Royal Family is also exempt from inheritance taxes, though King Charles voluntarily pays tax on the income from his private estate. According to the ex-Lib-Dem MP Norman Baker, Queen Elizabeth II’s private wealth would have been subject to taxes of up to £400 million if she had been a private citizen.
Do they really care or is it just PR?
It’s often argued that the royal family indirectly brings a lot of money into the country’s coffers through tourism: according to the consulting company Brand Finance, the wedding of William and Kate brought in well over £1 billion for the British economy in 2011 alone.
And, in the Royals’ defence, there have been cutbacks and concessions: King Charles’ coronation at Westminster Abbey will not last more than two hours and be performed in front of 2,200 guests, while his mother’s 1953 coronation lasted over three hours and had over 8,000 invitees.
It’s clear that the royals are well aware of the cost of living crisis afflicting Britons, and have even gone out of their way to acknowledge it: according to a royal expert speaking to Sky News, King Charles’s coronation will “emphasise the cost of living crisis” and how the British public “can help”.
Alastair Bruce, a former officer of arms of the Royal Household, said: “[The coronation] can be used to act as a cohesive opportunity to galvanise people to support those who are having a tough time. The great help out is there in order to encourage people who have celebrated over the previous two days to come out and do something for their community, to engage with the action.”
The “Big Help Out” refers to a volunteering day organised for the Bank Holiday on Monday 8 May. According to the Government, there are currently more than 8,800 events, 30,000 organisations, and 55,000 people registered on the Big Help app.
But the Big Help Out has been warned that the event is at risk of falling flat because of a collapse in the amount of people giving up time each month to volunteer. According to government commissioned research, 34% of respondents to the Community Life Survey volunteered at least once a month, which is a notable decrease from 41% the year before and 44% in 2013-14.
And it can be easy to categorise the initiative as a superficial PR move to brush over the excesses of the royal coronation and pretend the Royals genuinely care about the struggling citizens they rule over.
Speaking to The Guardian, Sabine Goodwin, coordinator of Independent Food Aid Network (Ifan), which represents a total of 1,172 food banks across the country, said: “No amount of goodwill and generosity can replace a person’s right to be able to afford a decent standard of living. Compassion is vital but a day of volunteering can’t address the poverty and inequality crises in the UK today.”
As the cost of living continues to cause more suffering among the British public, and the rate of inflation remains stubbornly high, what’s clear is that rather than being a unifying event of national pride, the coronation is symbolic of the ever-widening inequality in the UK, and representative of a Royal Family which has, by its nature, always been out of touch with the lives of those it rules over.
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