Platinum Jubilee: perpetuating the royal agenda
Increasingly Britain is a country sustained by bunting. As the ‘cost of living crisis’ reaches across society the UK government is offering more money for people to throw a party for the monarch than is available for crisis grants in Scotland. Anna Mackenzie explores how deep poverty sits alongside obscene wealth.
This week marks the 70th anniversary of the Accession of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne. The longest-reigning female monarch in history, Her Majesty is now also the first British monarch in history to reach a platinum jubilee.
UK-wide funding of more than £22 million has been announced to promote local celebrations. Some councils are offering thousands of pounds in grant money to encourage the public to throw parties, picnics, and plant trees to mark the occasion.
But as the national welfare budget fails to provide adequate support to struggling households, could this money be better spent?
In 2020/21, the sovereign grant – money from the HM Treasury to support the official duties of the royal family – totalled £85.9 million alone.
The annual grant equals a percentage of the income of The Crown Estate, which increased from 15% to 25% in 2017/18 in order to fund the refurbishment of Buckingham Palace.
Nearly £50 million went towards property maintenance, while net expenditure exceeded total allocation. Fortunately for the royal household, the surplus was covered by further reserve funds.
In the same year, local authorities in Scotland were given £57.5 million for Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) awards.
The SWF supports wider welfare spending to offer grants to people and families on lower incomes. These grants already come with their own list of conditions. For example, persons subject to immigration control cannot apply for a crisis grant, and emergency funding is usually not given more than three times in one year.
Last year, spending on community care grants reached almost £30 million, though this only equates to a 57% acceptance of the total applications.
The expenditure on crisis grants totalled £20 million, with a 69% acceptance rate and an average award of £106 – less than the proposed minimum jubilee grant.
Compounded by the impact of the pandemic, an unabating housing crisis and a decade of austerity, the number of applications for emergency grants increased by 22% on the previous year.
It is difficult to quantify £50 million in real terms, when by one hand it can be as a means to refurbish a few royal palaces, and by another to provide already limited help to the most vulnerable in society at times of increasing need.
The soaring cost of fuel and food projected for this year will inevitably push more people below the poverty line and see more households needing emergency financial support.
Pomp and propaganda
As upon any anniversary, we’re being asked to look back – to share fond memories of royal visits to humble towns and create a semblance of personal connection to those upon high.
The inherent power of this sense of shared history, a communal celebration of the ‘good old days’, is that it keeps the emphasis on the past.
But the past provides a thin veil to the reality of the present, lest we forget the scandals that have hounded the royals over the past two years alone – from the departure of Harry and Meghan following allegations of racism at the hands of the British press and the family itself, to the downfall of the Queen’s favourite son, Prince Andrew, who is set to go on trial in a civil sexual assault case brought against him by Virginia Giuffre.
This is not about vilifying the monarchy. Nor is it about denying people the pleasure of getting a day off work to drink champagne and slur their way through the national anthem.
It’s about understanding the self-satisfying nature of ostensibly beneficiary handouts. There is an ulterior motive to the propaganda surrounding the Platinum Jubilee. It demands a continuation of public loyalty to the monarchy, and as such, to the Union itself.
To commemorate the milestone, children across the country are going to receive a book that celebrates the achievements of the United Kingdom in a project costing nearly £12 million.
Will this book delve into how Britain exploited commonwealth countries for their resources? Perhaps it will examine Britain’s violent suppression of anti-colonial resistance, or how it orchestrated a deadly famine that swept through India killing four million Bengalis, or how it left behind a legacy of racial injustice which mark the socio-economic landscapes of countless former colonies?
According to Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi, it will not. He said: “For 70 years Her Majesty The Queen has played an instrumental role in the events, people and places that have helped shape the United Kingdom and Commonwealth.
“From the hundreds of charities and organisations of which she is patron, to the 14 Prime Ministers who have served during her reign – thousands of children will be able to read about our great nation, its history and future.”
Illusions of grandeur
Another quirk of the jubilee is the latest bid for city status. 37 locations are in the running to be bequeathed an honour that offers no tangible benefits, another idolisation of the illusion of prestige.
Speaking of, UK-wide polls suggest the majority of people are still in favour of keeping the monarchy. However, discrepancies appear when comparing the sentiment of votes according to voting preference, region and age.
A 2021 YouGov poll found 77% of pensioners said Britain should continue to have a monarchy, while only 37% of 18-24 year olds said the same, with a majority favouring the establishment of a republic.
While polling has found that a majority of Scots would like to retain the monarchy, support is markedly lower than in other parts of the UK.
With its marketing of the jubilee, the monarchy can enhance its image and forcibly secure its hold on the national consciousness.
Festooned streetlamps and garden parties may offer some distraction from the social hardships we’ve collectively experience during the pandemic, but they don’t create any real change.
At a time when more people need more social and financial support as the “cost of living crisis” becomes common speak, these facile ambitions are surely an unwarranted diversion of resources.
In the face of ever-increasing social injustice, a bank holiday seems like weak compensation.
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