LONDON, UK — These are tough times for British workers — unless you happen to be part of a particular family business headquartered in central London.
In exchange for official duties such as opening parliament, meeting regularly with the prime minister and rubber-stamping legislation, the queen’s state paycheck for 2014-15 will amount to nearly $65 million dollars, the palace has announced.
That’s a 5 percent increase over the previous year’s payout, more than three times the 1.6 percent rate of inflation.
The Sovereign Support Grant, as the Treasury’s annual payment to the monarchy is known, covers the costs of royal business: garden parties and official palace functions, travel costs for the royal family’s 3,000 public engagements each year, and salaries for the household’s 500 employees.
Think of it as an annual lump-sum reimbursement for a really big expense account.
The payout comes amid hard times for British workers whose jobs don’t involve knighting people.
Average weekly pay rose a scant 0.7 percent annually from March to May this year, the slowest rate since the government started measuring it in 2001.
Save for a brief period in April and a two-month spell in 2010, wages have lagged behind inflation for the last six years.
With many average Brits facing austerity-driven reductions in public services and budget-driven cuts in personal spending, news of the Sovereign Grant is stirring up resentment among those who would like to see the funds put to different use.
“The amount of money we give them just goes up according to property prices rather than any sense of need or budgeting analysis ... which is completely mad,” says Graham Smith, executive director of Republic, a group campaigning for the abolition of the monarchy.
The grant is a percentage of annual revenues of the Crown Estate, a portfolio of properties and investments owned by the crown — not the royal family members themselves — and managed independently.
Valued at more than $15 billion, the portfolio’s lucrative holdings include the entire freehold to Regent Street — a central London shopping district comparable to New York’s Fifth Avenue — and all of the ocean floor 12 nautical miles beyond Britain’s coastline.
All revenues from the estate are paid into the treasury, which cuts the royal family a check each year in the amount of 15 percent of revenues from the year two years’ prior (meaning this year’s grant is calculated from the 2012-13 profits).
Lest you worry about how the 88-year-old monarch is scraping by on that amount, rest assured.
“Her Majesty has her own personal income too,” a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said.
The queen’s personal expenses (extra hats? Corgi food?) are met by revenues from her private investments and two privately owned estates, Sandringham Estate in Norfolk and Balmoral Castle in Scotland.
Money can be an uncomfortable point in any relationship, and the one between the monarch and her subjects is no different.
“We try to get the best value possible from the public funds entrusted to us,” Keeper of the Privy Purse Sir Alan Reid told the Evening Standard magazine.
The monarchy spent $61 million on official business last year, a cost of $0.96 per Briton, Reid said.
Republic argues that the figure fails to take into account public expenses such as policing and security for the family’s appearances. The monarchy’s real annual cost is closer to $500 million, the organization claims.
Some of the expenses would probably not be considered a bargain in the non-royal world, like the $5.8 million to fix up Kensington Palace as a private residence for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge or Prince Charles’s $435,500 trip to South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s funeral.
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Not all Brits believe that’s money poorly spent, however.
“It’s quite easy to say, well, is she just having a lot of whoopee parties?” says Victor Morgan, a history professor at the University of East Anglia who believes that those who dismiss the monarchy’s value often fail to understand history.
“We tried a bit of revolution in the middle of the 17th century and had a go at a republic and didn’t like it,” he says. “It didn’t work. We don’t fully appreciate the stability of our own society. The monarchy is part of that stability.”