Is the Royal Family Nothing But a Giant Waste of Money?

The fact that the royal family lives a lavish lifestyle in the public eye and is supported by taxpayer money is a point of contention for some Brits, and it can be downright confusing for many Americans. As comedians like John Oliver poke fun at the royal family every chance they get, it can seem only logical to mock the costs of propping up these symbolic figureheads as a waste of money. 

However, the position of the royal family is more complicated than it may appear on the surface. What is the true cost of supporting them, and is it worth it? 

The royal family comes with quite a bill for taxpayers

Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II | Samir Hussein/WireImage

There are many expenses that taxpayers cover when it comes to the royal family. The total costs include security, updates to Buckingham Palace (even though it is not even occupied full time), and travel expenses. The costs come to a total of around £350 million (about $425 million) annually. 

Not all of the money the royal family has comes from the public. Many members of the royal family receive funds from their private estates and assets. However, a substantial portion of their income does come from the taxpayers.

What are the duties this family performs in exchange? Well, there are more than many people might think. For one, the royal family is the public face of the country, and they have a responsibility to respond to the many letters they get—especially the Queen, who receives more than 300 letters a day and tries to answer as many as she can herself. 

They are also responsible for showing up at many public functions, and of course, that means dressing the part. Much of their lives is a kind of public performance where they must always be in character and dressed appropriately. These duties help raise funds for charities and allow certain members of the royal family to act as official ambassadors for the country in meetings with leaders from around the globe. 

Tourism helps offset costs

In addition to performing direct duties as members of the royal family, the very existence of their role is a huge draw for tourists. An estimated 2.7 million visitors flock to Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle each year, and royal-related tourism brings in an estimated £550 million (about $667 million) each year. By these estimates, the royal family adds more to the economy than taxpayers pay them. 

However, critics point out that it might be possible that the royal family would draw an equal amount from tourists while still taking in less money themselves. Additionally, it’s possible that the historic buildings and memorabilia would draw in tourists even if there was not a current royal family, so it’s impossible to know how much of this additional tourism revenue is actually directly tied to the royal family’s current position. 

The royal family is conscious of their image

Knowing that they are on the taxpayer’s dime, the royal family is careful with the way that they behave in public when it comes to extravagant spending. While there are often extreme expenses associated with major events such as weddings, the royal family has been known to fly on budget airlines and fund some of their own travel. 

They are also careful to walk the fine lines around their public personas and keep up the proper appearances for their important roles. This sense of responsibility to the public that funds their lifestyle shines through even in awkward moments that reveal they are just people trying to live their lives.  

Ultimately, the question of whether or not the royal family is worth their costs comes down to what people think of the symbolic role they play in British society. For the critics, there is likely no amount low enough to justify their position. For the fans, their position is priceless.