Queen Elizabeth II visits New York: What does royalty cost British taxpayers?

Queen Elizabeth II will today address the United Nations for the first time since 1957. But the British government's austerity measures have cut the monarchy's budget, and some see this trip as the Queen's last international hurrah.

Seth Wenig/AP
Queen Elizabeth II waits to speak at United Nations Headquarters, Tuesday. The total public cost of supporting the British monarchy $57.8 million, according to Royal accounts published on Monday.

‘One’ certainly gets around. Two weeks ago it was a visit to Wimbledon, last week it was Canada, and today Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II was in New York to address the United Nations for the first time in more than half a century.

While the monarch’s latest travels have created a buzz abroad, news from Britain might lead many to regard her whirlwind tour as something of a final royal victory lap as the indebted nation grows increasingly reticent to finance Europe's most expensive monarchy.

Royal accounts published on Monday by Buckingham Palace suggest that the Queen, like many of her subjects, is going to have to embrace austerity by cutting spending and putting off repairs to palaces. A new government budget unveiled June 22 froze the Queen's annual payment at £7.9 million ($12 million), among other austerity measures, for at least one year.

IN PICTURES: Royal Families: Europe's Last Monarchies

The Royal accounts state that the total public cost of supporting the monarchy was £38.2m ($57.8m) in the year to March 31, the equivalent of 62 pence (94 cents) per person.

According to the Queen’s accountant, Alan Reid (otherwise known as the Keeper of the Privy Purse), the figure represents a saving after the Palace already cut expenditure on the royals’ official duties by 12.2 percent.

“The royal household is acutely aware of the difficult economic climate" and will be cutting costs and putting off essential maintenance, he said.

But not everyone is impressed by the supposed embrace of frugality by the Queen and her family.

Mixed interpretations in British media

Graham Smith of the anti-monarchy group Republic says that the overall cost to British taxpayer’s of keeping the Royal Family had actually gone up, while the full extent of security and policing costs remain undisclosed.

“We are also not being told how much tax the Queen pays, for example,” he says.

Frustration over the economy and the high cost of supporting the monarchy, however, has not undermined the Palace's widespread support. This points toward the curious paradox that continues to exist in relation to how Britons view the royals: Polls show that a large majority support the continuation of the monarchy but also believe that the royals don’t represent value for money.

“Most people only really think of it as a little old lady living in a big house,” says Mr. Smith of the Queen, who holds the status of being one of the richest women in the world.

Opposing sides in the debate about the future of Britain’s monarchy applied different spins to two of her public appearances in Canada.

The Daily Telegraph sought to emphasis the Queen’s supposed mindfulness of the tightened times by reporting that she wore a “recycled” dress decorated with Swarovski crystals to a banquet in Toronto on Monday night.

The gown was originally worn to a state dinner in Trinidad and Tobago last autumn, said the right-of-center daily.

On the other side of the political spectrum, left-of-center daily The Guardian reported that the Queen wore her own customized set of 3D glasses with Swarovski crystals forming the letter Q on the sides when she visited Pinewood Toronto studios to watch footage that had just been filmed in her presence.

"One must still have one’s bling," ran the sub-headline.

After speaking at the UN Tuesday, the Queen's five-hour visit to New York will include a stop at the World Trade Center site, laying a wreath in tribute to the thousands who died in the 9/11 attack, including 67 Britons. Then, according to the Associated Press, she will visit Hanover Square and open the British Garden of Remembrance and meet families of the British victims.

IN PICTURES: Royal Families: Europe's Last Monarchies


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