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
Some of Britain’s poorest households are finding it increasingly more difficult to cover the costs of funerals, according to a report by the University of Bath .
The average cost of a funeral, including administration and burial or cremation, has increased by 80% since 2004 and now stands at an eye-watering £7,622.
Poorer households can obtain help from the Funeral Social Fund, but according to the report low-income families and those on benefits face an average shortfall of £1,227, which raises questions about the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) funeral payment scheme.
Despite vast improvements in healthcare and people living longer, we all have to meet our maker one day, but for some of Britain’s poorest households dying is swiftly becoming an inevitable end of life event which could leave their loved ones with a very hefty bill.
Dr Kate Woodthorpe from Bath University’s Centre for Death and Society, told the Daily Mirror:
“As a result people are living longer, which requires larger incomes and pension pots to ensure these extra years can be afforded.
“At the same time, the younger generations have less ready cash to call on, so they cannot necessarily be relied on to pick up the bill either.
“We know that the long-term decline in death rates is about to reverse, with a projected rise in the number of deaths around 15 to 20% in the next two decades.
“We also know that right now, with some of the lowest death rates ever recorded, the safety nets provided by the state via the Social Fund Funeral Payment and local authority public health funerals are under pressure.
“Their sustainability into the future is debatable.”
A spokesperson for the DWP also told the Daily Mirror: “The Funeral Payment scheme continues to cover the necessary costs of burial or cremation in full, because we know that these costs may vary widely across the country.
“A significant contribution is also made towards the fee levied by funeral directors which is currently set at £700.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 21 Jan 2014