Joan Smith: We're all in this together, but is Charles?

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The Independent Online

Cognitive dissonance or taking the you-know-what? I'm still trying to decide, but judge for yourself: as ordinary people in this country cut back on even small luxuries like chocolate, Prince Charles has increased his staff to 159.

His overall income, which includes funding from the Government and the Duchy of Cornwall, rose by almost five per cent to £19.7m last year. Meanwhile the salaries of his expanding staff of butlers, valets, aides, dressers, housekeepers and gardeners were frozen. It's tough out there, you know!

The prince is, as we know, a doughty campaigner against climate change and "over-consumption of finite natural resources". It says so in his annual review, which also reveals that his own travel costs rose by 56 per cent last year as he and Camilla clocked up 34,000 miles on official trips. The review speaks in glowing terms of his Start initiative "to encourage people and communities to take practical steps to reduce their energy use and carbon footprint". But the prince has yet to start cutting his own expenditure, although one economy has been announced this week: his newly appointed harpist won't receive a salary.

Perhaps the Royal Family doesn't follow the news. How could they have failed to notice that the word "austerity" is everywhere, along with alarming phrases like "retail carnage"? In Greece, there are riots over the prospect of another round of savage cuts, and in this country a swathe of high-street names is announcing shop closures and redundancies. Ten thousand jobs are set to be lost as one company after another recognises that consumers have less money after paying soaring household bills.

But while shoppers can no longer afford to indulge themselves with a few chocolate truffles, Charles's personal spending rose by 50 per cent to £2.5m in 2010. His expenditure on entertaining and receptions alone rose by more than a quarter, to £323,000. And he claimed it all against tax, along with £155,000 for the upkeep of his gardens. This ancien-regime lifestyle is all the more astonishing against the background of today's strike by public sector workers, with millions of people protesting about having to work longer for smaller pensions.

There's no doubt that there is a pension-funding crisis, but an evident lack of fairness makes the bitter pill harder to swallow. One of New Labour's failures in government was its unwillingness to tackle the pay gap between the highest and lowest paid, allowing a culture of excess to flourish unchecked in publicly funded institutions. I'm not just talking about the lucky residents of Clarence House, but the way in which all kinds of people – from council chief executives to top BBC presenters and executives – began to expect (and got) eye-watering salary and pension deals.

The BBC refused to comment yesterday on reports that it has paid more than £1.3m to make just two of its most senior staff redundant, saying only that it has made "significant progress" in reducing the number and salaries of top executives. But the deputy director-general Mark Byford is believed to have received just under £950,000 in addition to a generous pension pot, while another senior member of staff, who had worked for the BBC for less than two years, left with just under £400,000. Presumably the corporation was contractually obliged to make the payments, but the question is why the BBC's salary structure was allowed to become so detached from reality.

Envy is an unattractive emotion, but this isn't just about a few overpaid individuals. It's about fairness at a time when people who don't have very much to start with are seeing their pensions reduced, getting fewer visits from home-helps or having their day centres closed. That's the reality for millions of people, and I can't help wondering why we put up with an heir to the throne who's a one-man argument for the introduction of sumptuary laws.