Image: Annie Spratt, Unsplash

Would abolishing the monarchy make the UK more equal?

Blog by Rob Donnelly

We all want to live in a society which is more equal, where nurses, teachers, and junior doctors are paid enough to afford the essentials and where people feel safe in their neighbourhoods. Our goal at the Equality Trust is to dismantle structural inequalities of income, wealth, and power and to see that more equal society become reality. 

Removing those structural inequalities means taking a look at the fundamentals of how the UK works – and I would argue that it is hard to think of an institution which better exemplifies the multitude of inequalities in our society than the monarchy. 

Would abolishing the monarchy make the UK more equal? It’s a fair question – thanks to everyone who joined our Twitter Space on Tuesday 9 May with lecturer and author of “Running the Family Firm” Laura Clancy and Frances Foley, deputy director of Compass. You can listen to the discussion with the video above

The Head of Inequality Policy at Oxfam International calculated that the late Queen owned 3,200 times the wealth of the average UK citizen. It is of course well documented that Charles has avoided paying any inheritance tax on the vast fortune he inherited from his mother as a result of a clause agreed by then Prime Minister John Major back in 1993. Another peculiarity is the monarchy’s exemption from Freedom of Information Requests, which shields them from the type of accountability that you would expect any publicly funded institution to be held to. This weekend’s coronation ceremony is just the latest in a long line of indulgences afforded to the monarchy at the taxpayers expense.   

Last week the ONS released the results of their winter pressures survey (conducted between November 22 and February 23) which found that one in twenty adults had run out of food and had not been able to afford to buy more in the last two weeks. The survey also found that around 20% of adults said that they were occasionally, hardly ever or never able to keep comfortably warm in the past two weeks. 

These shocking findings are compounded by the fact that now nearly 30% of children in the UK live in poverty (4.2 million children), 90,000 people per year die in poverty and Shelter estimates that 271,000 people are homeless in England alone. 

Against this backdrop, the Daily Mirror reports that the Coronation of King Charles III, curiously codenamed Operation Golden Orb, will cost the UK taxpayer up to £250 million. Although around 60% of this cost relates to securing the event, it seems fair to question whether spending a quarter of billion pounds on a wholly unnecessary ceremony for a man believed to have a private wealth of nearly £2 billion is an appropriate use of public money.      

It has been widely briefed in the media that the new King has asked for a ‘scaled-back’ ceremony in light of the ongoing cost of living crisis the country is enduring. This doesn’t appear to have materialised; his coronation will cost five times more than his mother’s coronation in 1953 even when adjusted for inflation.         

Last week the chief Economist at the Bank of England said that people in the UK ‘need to accept’ being poorer and that we ‘all have to take our share.’ It is telling that this logic is rarely, if ever applied to those at the top of society, such as ‘the Sovereign.’ The annual cost of the monarchy to the taxpayer comes in at around £345 million a year. Whilst this may seem insignificant compared to the one trillion of annual government expenditure the extent of the Monarchy’s wealth reaches far beyond this figure. For instance, the Duchy of Cornwall estate is worth an estimated £1 billion or the equivalent of the annual salary of 30,000 nurses

This weekend’s coronation is an opportunity to continue the debate on the legitimacy and relevance of having an unelected head of state in the 21st century. Do we want to continue with a hereditary system which entrenches and further exacerbates inequality and elitism or do we want the public to have a voice in electing our head of state? 

A recent Savanta poll shows that overall public support for the monarchy is waning, with just 52% of the public supporting the monarchy. 18-34 year-olds are even less enthusiastic about the continuation of the monarchy with just 39% maintaining support for the institution. Far from being a panacea, replacing the monarchy with a democratic structure would be an important and necessary first step towards a more equitable, democratic and citizen led future.   

Rob Donnelly is the Equality Trust’s Policy and Research Officer

Would abolishing the monarchy make the UK more equal? It’s a fair question – let us know what you think by joining our Twitter Space on Tuesday 9 May with lecturer and author of “Running the Family Firm” Laura Clancy and Frances Foley, deputy director of Compass