Rise in ‘funeral poverty’ means more than 100,000 in UK cannot afford to die



(Facts culled from articles in ‘The Independent’ & ‘The Guardian’)

At 9.30am, seven family members gather in the south chapel at the City of London crematorium to celebrate the life of a mother and grandmother who has died at the age of 77. The minister reads through The Lord’s My Shepherd and a granddaughter struggles through tears to make a speech recalling a shared love of bingo. The minister remarks that this was a woman who was extremely honest and plain-speaking. “Sometimes her honesty was refreshing and sometimes it wasn’t welcome, but you knew where you stood,” he tells the family. Outside, there is the noise of vehicles reversing as the hearse draws away for its next appointment.

There is nothing remarkable about the service, except the time. The 9.30am slot is when public health or environmental funerals are held – once known as pauper’s funerals. These are services paid for by the local authority when someone has died without relatives or money, or when their relatives have been unable to fund the service.

Funeral poverty is an unexpectedly potent indicator of the combined impact of recession, austerity, low wages and the insecure job market. The insurance company Sun Life Direct says funeral poverty has risen by 125% since 2010 – a figure it calculates by assessing the shortfall between the cost of funerals and people’s ability to pay. Around one in seven people struggle to pay funeral costs – with the average cost of a basic funeral around £3,590, according to the company’s research.

Funeral charities and crematorium staff report a rise in demand for the state-funded funeral, and note that while it was designed for those who died alone, increasingly it is being used to bury people whose families are unable to meet the cost of arranging a ceremony. Meanwhile there has been a parallel rise in DIY funerals (where families buy the coffin online, and transport the body themselves to the crematorium in a van or an estate car) because of the rising cost of a high street funeral and the fall in the value of support offered by the state to those struggling to meet the costs.

Never mind the cost of living crisis – the rise of “funeral poverty” in Britain means more than 100,000 people will be unable to afford the cost of dying this year, researchers have said.

The average price of arranging a funeral, burial or cremation service with state administration now stands at £7,622, and has risen by 7.1 per cent in the past year alone.

Combined with the financial challenges faced by the poorest people in recession-hit Britain, it means the level of “funeral poverty” is up 50 per cent from three years ago.

According to a study from the University of Bath’s Institute for Policy Research (IPR), the hundreds of thousands of people who will struggle to afford to die in 2014 will also leave their families with an unnecessarily difficult challenge to apply for state support.

For families on low incomes, the Social Fund Funeral Payment, first introduced in 1988, is intended to take the financial pressure away from giving their loved-one a proper funeral.

But the IPR report called for a review of the Department for Work and Pensions-administered payment, describing it as “outdated”, “overly complex” and “insufficient” to meet the needs of the poorest in society.

In spite of the lowest-ever recorded mortality rates for England and Wales, the cost of dying has steadily increased over recent years.

The average cost of a funeral actually rose by 80 per cent between 2004 and 2013 and the costs of dying are expected to continue to increase over the next five years.

On average, the price of a typical funeral, including non-discretionary fees and a burial or cremation, is £3,456.

The average amount spent on extras such as a memorial, flowers and catering is £2,006 and discretionary estate administration costs have increased significantly to £2,160.

Perhaps those impoverished families facing the challenge of burying a loved one could have done with a little ‘budget allowance’ of their own eh chancellor?


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