The British Monarchy Is Better for Taxpayers Than You Might Think
Queen Elizabeth II was laid to rest on Monday in an elaborate state funeral. Like other lavish events for the royal family, British anti-monarchists grumbled about the extravagant cost of the affair—noting that the multimillion-pound funeral would be paid for entirely by taxpayers.
The high cost of the monarchy—from Buckingham Palace to private flights to $34 million weddings—has long been a complaint for British republicans. Without the monarchy, the argument goes, the British taxpayers will no longer be compelled to foot the bill for the lavish lifestyle of a family that appears to do little other than cut ribbons and be conspicuously wealthy.
But the royals have an unusual agreement with the British government—an agreement that likely makes British citizens’ tax bills cheaper, not more expensive. This is due to a deal originally cut in 1760 by King George III, allowing the British government to reap the revenues from the royal family’s vast private property, called the Crown Estate, while giving them their taxpayer-funded stipend in return.
In total, these properties brought £486.9 million, or $671.9 million, in revenue in 2021. In contrast, the royal family’s taxpayer-funded expenses, in the form of a “sovereign grant,” totaled only $118.5 million that year, thus netting the British government a profit of almost $550 million in 2021 dollars. Were the monarchy to be retired, this deal would likely end, allowing the royal family to retain the whole profits from the Crown Estate.
The royal family owns a broad portfolio of property, ranging from Buckingham Palace and Balmoral Castle to shopping centers and acres of farmland. “The British Exchequer, which is basically the British treasury department, gets 75 percent, give or take, of the profits from the Crown Estate every year. Twenty-five percent, more or less, is withheld to finance the royal family’s expenses, but they also have other sources of revenue,” says Mark Vail, a political scientist at Wake Forest University. “But the lion’s share comes from those returns. So, narrowly conceived, the Exchequer actually makes money on the Crown. The amount that they spend on upkeep is smaller than the amount that is returned to the Exchequer every year.”
The British anti-monarchy group Republic places the estimated cost of the monarchy much higher than the sovereign grant, estimat
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