Funeral poverty protestors call for rise in emergency fund

Campaigners stage mock funeral at Westminster to highlight rising debts, with the state fund payment stagnant since 2003

Campaigners dressed as undertakers and mourners protested at Westminster today, calling on the government to help people struggling with funeral costs.

The mock funeral procession through Parliament Square was staged to highlight the growing problem of funeral poverty faced by many families in mourning.

Emergency assistance provided by the state was capped at £700 back in 2003, far below the cost of the most basic funeral.

The latest data shows the amount of debt accrued to pay for funerals now sits at a record high of £160 million, up just over £10 million from last year. The average funeral now costs £3,784.

Leading charities, including Quaker Social Action’s Fair Funerals campaign have sent a letter to Chancellor Philip Hammond making the case for a raise in the state’s funeral fund in line with inflation (then uprated annually in line with the retail price index).

The funeral fund currently only covers 40% of the costs of a basic, no-frills funeral.

Helen, 59, explained how she was left “in bits” after her son Aaron died and did have enough to avoid going into significant debt, even with the fund payment.

“He’d been severely disabled and me and my husband cared for him for 25 years. We’d always tried to save, but you don’t get much chance when you’re a carer.”

“We applied for the funeral fund but were still left with over a thousand pounds worth of debt,” Helen added. “Having this hanging over us was an awful reminder of Aaron’s death. I felt too ashamed to scatter Aaron’s ashes while we still owed money to the funeral director.”

It’s simply not good enough that grieving families are being forced into poverty and debt trying to arrange a simple funeral

According to the Royal London National Funeral Cost Index, more than one in seven people now struggle with the cost of funerals.

“In the fifth richest country in the world, it’s simply not good enough that grieving families are being forced into poverty and debt trying to arrange a simple funeral after someone they love dies,” said Heather Kennedy, Fair Funerals campaigns manager.

Mandie Lavin, CEO of the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD), added:
 “The funeral fund has to cover almost everything relating to the funeral including collection and care of the deceased person, the coffin, flowers, celebrant or minister’s fees, the arranging and paperwork related to the funeral service and carrying the funeral out on the day.

“A payment at this level (£700) is too small to be of any real assistance to the bereaved people who need it.”

You can find a petition urging the chancellor to raise the funeral fund here, and more on the campaign on Twitter using the hashtag #burythedebt.