The rise in paupers’ funerals and their spiralling cost to councils has been branded a ‘stark’ reminder of austerity on Tyneside.
Local authorities forked out 78% more on funerals for families who don’t have the money to bury their loved ones themselves in the two latest financial years, compared to the two years leading up to the 2010 General Election.
One authority faced a 100% increase in how much they paid out to cover funerals, either in full or as a contribution to costs.
Emma Lewell-Buck, the MP for South Shields who is asking the Government to review the national funeral payments system, said:
“Funeral poverty is often overlooked, but at a time when incomes are falling and cruel welfare reforms are hitting hard the added cost of a funeral can have a devastating effect on families.
“It is little wonder families are turning to their Local Authority or getting into debt, it is crucial that the plight of so many is highlighted and a swift resolution brought to this heart-wrenching poverty.”
A complex web of factors are said to behind the current number of council-funded funerals – officially known as public health funerals – and associated costs.
Meanwhile, charities are striving to maintain dignity for families and help people stay out of debt.
Heather Kennedy, funeral poverty officer with Quaker Social Action, said:
“The figures are stark. There is still a perception that a public health funeral amounts to a ‘paupers’ funeral’ but this can get in the way of real grieving processes.
“It can be really hard but some people are just so relieved that they will be able to have some sort of service after all that they are happy with anything.”
Families can apply for part-funding from the council to cover funeral bills, and the council will also meet the full cost when a person dies with no family able to pay when the deceased’s estate does not cover the fees.
South Tyneside Council has gone from spending £500 on two funerals before the General Election, to 11 funerals costing £7,000 in 2013/14.
County Durham has seen its costs double. While the cost of six funerals and contributions was £3,015 in 2008/09, in 2013/14 it was £7,386.
Newcastle City Council has had to pay out £101,490 on 131 funerals in the past six years – although year on year the number of funerals fluctuates.
The figures reveal costs are rising more than the number of funerals, and in 2008/09 and 2009/10 Newcastle, South Tyneside, County Durham and Sunderland City Council spent £44,965.14 on public health funerals.
In 2012/13 and 2013/14 this figure rose to £80,158.38 while the number of burials has only risen by 32% over the same period.
The average funeral in the UK now costs around £3,466 – an 80% rise in the past ten years.
Ms Kennedy added:
“We see a lot of people who are struggling financially and may be claiming benefits but there are also increasingly more people who are in work.
“So because they are in work they can’t apply for a social fund so when suddenly someone in the family dies they can’t afford it.
“People who weren’t necessarily in debt before can really be floored by this.”
Newcastle City Council buried 17 people in 2008/09, which cost £12,995.00, and in the year 2012/13 this rose to 29 people costing £24,400, while last year there were 21 funerals which cost £20,406.00.
In Sunderland the number of funerals has risen year on year to from six in 2008/09, which cost Sunderland City Council £1,124, to 13 in 2013/14 costing the council £6,423.98.
Emma Lewell-Buck, who has spoken in Parliament on the issue of funeral poverty, has said low-income households have been forced to turn to payday loan companies and sell possessions in order to lay their loved ones to rest.
There is also the fear that an ageing population, funeral cost inflation and rising death rates could mean the problem of unaffordability spirals, with more and more people applying to the council for help.
A South Tyneside Council spokesperson, said:
“It is obviously extremely sad that some people die without any known living relatives to celebrate their lives at their passing.
“Our staff in Bereavement Services work hard to trace relatives of the deceased but sometimes are unable to find anyone.
“When this happens we provide a dignified funeral service giving the due respect everyone deserves at the end of their lives.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 30 Dec 2014
South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck is aiming to make it easier for people to pay for funerals.
She has won parliamentary time to propose a new Bill to tackle funeral poverty, which has seen hundreds of thousands of families get into debt because they can’t afford a funeral service for someone close to them.
On 9 December Mrs Lewell-Buck will propose the Funeral Services Bill which, if passed, would make changes to the Government support system known as Funeral Payments.
At the moment, families can apply for a payment to help with the cost of paying for a service but the process takes several weeks and, by the time most people find out if they qualify for help, they have already committed to costs.
The new Bill would introduce a new check to let people know whether they are eligible for funeral payments quickly by requiring funeral directors to provide a ‘simple funeral’ option to help customers understand what they can expect to pay for a standard service.
In addition, the Bill calls for a major review of funeral affordability to look at ways the rising cost of funerals can be brought under control.
Mrs Lewell-Buck said research shows that the cost of funerals has nearly doubled in the last ten years. Over 100,000 people in Britain now live with funeral debt, with the average amount owed being £1,305.
“I’m pleased to have the chance to raise this important issue in Parliament. People who have lost someone close to them have enough to deal with without worrying about getting into debt as well.
“Everyone has the right to a decent send-off, but funerals are becoming less and less affordable with each passing year. The Government needs to start paying attention to this issue now, and I hope MPs of all parties will back my Bill.”
Heather Kennedy, funeral poverty officer at Quaker Social Action said:
“As a charity that supports people in funeral poverty, we’re really pleased Emma is raising an issue which has been almost ignored by Government until now. We’re seeing more and more people come to us each month in need of help arranging and paying for a funeral.
“With the ageing population, rising funeral costs and the squeeze on incomes, this problem is set to get a lot worse. The Government need to tackle funeral poverty before it becomes a national scandal.“
Source – Shields Gazette, 20 Nov 2014
With Labour voting for the government’s bill to cap welfare spending, the debate on the welfare state has taken a decisively wrong turn. The issue is not the cap itself, its level, or even its design. The problem lies in the very way in which the welfare state is understood.
Even if one accepts the need for the cap, there are many problems with the way in which it is designed. Many people have rightly pointed out that the capping scheme is not as “recession proof” as it is portrayed. One defence of the bill offered by the government – and accepted by Labour as the key justification for its support – is that it exempts “cyclical” spending, such as unemployment benefit (now given the Orwellian name jobseekers’ allowance). But there are other elements of welfare spending that increase in economic downturns that won’t be exempt. For example, recessions may increase the need for disability benefit because more people are incapacitated due to the psychological and physical impact of unemployment, poor diet, and lack of heating.
Important though these criticisms are, the biggest issue is the very way in which the “problem” of the British welfare state has been defined and understood. The cap is based on the view that the UK needs “to prevent welfare costs spiralling out of control”, given the wasteful nature of such spending. This is not backed up by the evidence.
The British, having supposedly invented the modern welfare state (a debatable proposition), have the mistaken notion that they have an exceptionally generous welfare state, as evidenced by the widespread worries about “welfare scrounging” and “welfare tourism”.
However, measured by public social spending (eg income support, pensions, health) as a proportion of GDP, Britain’s is not much bigger than the OECD average; 24.1% against 22.1% as of 2009. And the OECD includes among its 34 members a dozen or so relatively poor economies – Mexico, Chile, Turkey, Estonia and Slovakia, for example – where the welfare state is much smaller for various reasons (eg younger population, weaker parties of the left).
Even when it comes to income support for the working-age population – the element targeted by the new bill – the UK is not a particularly generous place. In 2007 it spent 4.5% of GDP for the purpose. This was only slightly above the OECD average (3.9%) and way below other rich European economies: the figures were 7.2% for Belgium, 7% for Denmark, 6% for Finland and 5.6% for Sweden.
And it is not even as if the need for social spending goes away if you reduce the welfare state. For many British supporters of a smaller welfare state the role model is the US, which has a very small welfare state (considering its level of income), accounting for only 19.2% of GDP as of 2009. However, it has a huge level of private spending on social expenditure, especially medical insurance and private pensions, which is equivalent to 10.2% of GDP. This means that, at 29.4%, the US has total social spending that is almost as high as that of Finland, which spends 30.7% of GDP on it (29.4% public and 1.3% private). Moreover, if the cost is “spiralling out of control” anywhere, it is in the largely private US healthcare system, thanks to over-treatment of patients, rising insurance premiums and soaring legal costs.
Most importantly, the view that social spending is wasteful needs to be seriously challenged. The frequently used argument against the welfare state is that it reduces economic growth by making the poor workshy and the rich reduce their wealth creation, given the tax burden involved.
However, there is no general correlation between the size of the welfare state and the growth performance of an economy. To cite a rather striking example, despite having a welfare state that is 50% bigger than that of the US (29.4% of GDP as against 19.2% of GDP in the US, in 2009), Finland has grown much faster. Between 1960 and 2010 Finland’s average annual per capita income growth rate was 2.7%, against 2% for the US. This means that during this period US income rose 2.7 times while Finland’s rose by 3.8 times.
The point is that the welfare state – if well designed and coordinated with labour market policies to re-train people and get them back into work – can encourage people to be more accepting of change, thereby promoting growth. Firms in countries such as Finland and Sweden can introduce new technologies faster than their US competitors because, knowing that unemployment need not mean penury and long-term joblessness, their workers do not resist these changes strongly.
Most American workforces are not organised and thus incapable of resisting technological changes that create unemployment – but the minority that are organised, such as the automobile workers, resist them tooth and nail because they know that if they lose their jobs, they will not even be able to afford to go to hospital, and will find it extremely difficult to get back into the labour market at the same level.
The British debate on the welfare state needs to be recast. The false premise that the country has a particularly generous welfare state whose cost is spiralling out of control needs to be abandoned. The structural factors driving up welfare costs, such as ageing, should be accepted – rather than denied and so putting undue pressure on other elements of social services.
Above all, the debate should be redirected into reforming the welfare state in a way that promotes structural change and economic growth.
Source – Welfare News Service 28 March 2014
If children cannot read, write or add up well enough by the age of 14, he says, their parents should be denied state benefits and made to live on food vouchers.
That is the proposal of Lord Digby Jones, the only person to have ever served as a minister in Her Majesty’s Government without being a member of a political party.
> I think with views like that he’s an honourary member of all the main parties anyway…
And it is a good job that he has no political allegiance, because he is scathing about Labour’s pledge of a bankers’ bonus tax as the solution to the country’s woes and would certainly have faced a few awkward questions were he sitting at Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet table.
He has little time for any politician who pledges low taxes and high spending and believes Labour, Liberal Democrats and Tories alike to be guilty of such empty promises.
This is Asia’s century, he tells an audience of business people and academics in Wolverhampton.
The former minister for trade under Gordon Brown is adamant that there is no way for British manufacturers and service providers to compete with India and China on price alone.
The solution, he says is to offer better quality. And the only way to do that is a skilled workforce.
But there is a problem. Kids are not coming out of school with high enough standards of literacy and numeracy.
As the 58-year-old gives his speech at the University of Wolverhampton Science Park he says he knows that the left-leaning newspaper the Guardian ‘will say shame on you’.
He says it anyway.
“If children can’t read and write by the time they leave formal education the teaching profession has failed,” he says.
“The teaching profession will say they have kids who go home and they don’t see a book again until they are back at school the next day.
“If you have kids who can’t read and write to the appropriate standard by the time they are 14, you should have your benefits stopped.
“You can have food stamps. But the extra bit, the Sky dish, the fags, that stops until the kids can read and write.”
> Yeah ? But what if the kids who can’t read come from a family NOT receiving benefits ? Even, god help us, a rich family ?
Already it’s a two-tier system. Benefits = punish them, rich = oh, never mind, our connections will get him a job in the city even if he is as thick as a brick.
Speaking with the Express & Star, he also suggests that schools could lower the age that children can leave to 14, particularly if they are disruptive in class.
“You could solve youth unemployment if the education system could send young people out of school at 16 able to read, write and add up.
“I would have them out at 14 if they want to come. Get them out into the world of work.”
> Oh for fuck’s sake – THERE ARE NOT ENOUGH JOBS TO GO ROUND AS IT IS. And this guy advised the government ? My god… no wonder we’re in a mess.
He says he would want them to be given some form of vocational training or an apprenticeship if it suited them better than studying in a classroom.
“Having skills doesn’t mean a PhD,” Lord Jones says.
> So tell that to all the employers who seem to regard paper qualifications far more highly than time-served practical skills.
His frustration at the level of ‘functional illiteracy’ among young people in Britain goes hand in hand with his concerns that the country must change the way it does business if it is to compete with developing countries and the new economic powers of China and India.
In his speech Lord Jones suggests that Britain is on the verge of a calamity, even invoking the image of the ‘doomsday’ clock used to explain how close mankind is to some form of nuclear or environmental catastrophe.
“The Guardian will say shame on you. But this is five minutes to midnight my friend.
“This is Asia’s century.”
Lord Jones believes the employers have to innovate and add value to their products and services.
“If all you compete on is price, then China will have your lunch and India will have your dinner,” he says.
The 58-year-old former lawyer was director general of the CBI from 2000 to 2006. He was made minister of state for trade and investment in 2007 but did not join a political party, instead being made a life peer.
> “He was made minister of state for trade and investment in 2007 “ – just before things really started going pear-shaped. Coincidence ?
Innovation, he says, is not just about invention.
“It was a Brit who invented the World Wide Web, a Brit who invested the television, penicillin, the telephone.
“We remember how good we were at invention but who leads the world on this now? It’s about innovation, taking an idea to the market.”
> It was a Brit who invented Universal Credit and all the other “innovations” that don’t work but continue to swallow cash by the billions.
He tells his audience that politicians of all parties in all countries have ‘lied’ ‘every day in every way’.
> Well, can’t argue with that… but then he spoils it by repeating all the old crap about benefits and jobs and stupid, lazy people. He’s a political party all on his own.
And it will be those who innovate in the public sector, such as the councils now drawing up deep cuts, who get themselves back on track.
“Whether it was Conservative, Liberal Democrat or Labour, they all told us we can have it all. They told us we can have high public spending, low taxation.
“But ‘vote for me and I will cut your spending’ is not the greatest election slogan of all time.
“Tax the bankers? Rubbish. It will never deliver enough money. We all have to understand that the party is over.
> “Tax the bankers? Rubbish. It will never deliver enough money.”
Read that as : “Tax my mates ? Rubbish. It will never deliver enough money. Screw the poor instead.”
“The public sector has to do it in a different way. There will never be the same money around. We have to cut our cloth accordingly.”
He also warned about the pressures of Britain’s ageing population as he made a plea for people to get the skills and training they needed to get a job and have a long career.
> In a world of part-time, short contract, zero-hour contract jobs ? Its all short term nowadays – does anyone really want a life-long career doing zero-hour shifts for Poundland ?
“If you have a system of government where you’re going to be looked after for longer than you were putting into the state, you will go bust.
“People will live longer and with the scourge of dementia.
“No-one costs more to care for than a physically healthy but mentally challenged older person.
“Where are we going to get the money from? And don’t say just tax bankers’ bonuses. That doesn’t solve it all.”
> It’d be a bloody good start, though…
Source Wolverhampton Express & Star, 27 Feb 2014