Niall Cooper: Lets get down to earth
Funeral poverty is almost too awful to want to think about, but that is exactly what increasing numbers of people are confronted with when loved ones pass away.
When Emma’s partner died at a local hospice a year or two back, she turned to a local funeral director for assistance. In spite of being on a low income, she was quoted a price of £3,800, which she felt obliged to accept. She was given no indication that cheaper options were available.
With help from the Down to Earth project (www.quakersocialaction.com/downtoearth) Emma managed to get this reduced by about £800 by having fewer cars, a simpler coffin and by removing services she didn’t need. The funeral director mentioned that Emma needed to put in an application to the government’s social fund before they would go ahead, but gave no indication of what she was likely to get or by when. Eight weeks later, she was eventually awarded a social fund grant of just £1,230, leaving her £1,770 in debt – an amount she had no means of paying off.
Emma is not alone. According to a survey for Sun Life insurance company, published last year, almost one in five people said they would struggle to meet funeral costs. Nationally, more than 100,000 people a year are facing difficulty meeting funeral expenses, with many ending up in debt as a result.
Who of us would want to give our nearest and dearest a cheap funeral, or a cut-price send off? Yet, over the past decade, the average funeral cost in the UK has gone up from £1,920 in 2004 to £3,456 in 2013 – an increase of 80%. Although the government offers help in the form of funeral payments, almost half of people who apply for a grant are turned down. Those who do qualify now almost invariably find that the grant does not cover the cost of the funeral…
This is an extract from the June 2014 edition of Reform.