Funeral directors challenged to take action to end funeral poverty

fairfunerals_logoHeather Kennedy, Funeral Poverty Campaigner for Quaker Social Action, explains how you can help ensure everyone pay fair prices for funerals. 

Everyone deserves a decent send off. Not everyone gets one. Funeral poverty – when the cost of a funeral is beyond a person’s ability to pay – has increased by 50% in the past five years and now affects one in seven of us.

What does this actually mean? It means if you’re one of the growing number of people with barely enough to cover living costs and someone dies, you’re likely to find yourself hit with a hefty funeral bill and no way of paying it off.

The average funeral in 2014 cost £3,163, up 80% in ten years. At the same time, support from the state has dried up. If you’re on certain benefits you might qualify for a Social Fund Funeral Payment. But this now covers only about 35% of the full cost of a basic funeral. And if you’re in low-paid work, you probably won’t get anything at all.

This is why we set up Down to Earth to help people on low incomes arrange a funeral they can afford. Val, a former client of Down to Earth said:

 “It was like a weight had been lifted from me after I visited Down to Earth. Once I’d figured out how I was going to afford the funeral I could concentrate on saying bye to dad”.

But funeral poverty is increasing steeply – we knew we had to do something about the big picture. So in 2014 we launched the Fair Funerals campaign to tackle the underlying causes of funeral poverty.

Funerals_closer funerals_Table

To my knowledge I’m the first and only Funeral Poverty Campaigner in the UK. I didn’t have a background in end-of-life issues before starting this job, and I was gobsmacked to see how expensive funerals were.

So why do more people not know about the problem, and why is no one talking about it? It’s as if we are still crippled by a Victorian legacy of shame when it comes to confronting death and money. This was partly why Quaker Social Action started campaigning on it. Here was a problem so far off the radar that most MPs still hadn’t heard of it.

I’ll admit the prospect of encouraging people to confront the financial implications of death was pretty daunting when I started campaigning against funeral poverty 18 months ago. But we can only solve this problem is we start talking to each other.

As bereaved consumers we need transparency and openness at the very time we feel least able to demand it. This transparency will come when those around us start talking about the cost of funerals and showing there’s no shame in it.

In the absence of statutory legislation of the funeral industry, we need the kind of consumer scrutiny that already exists for the other big purchases we make in your life like houses and cars. This simply doesn’t exist for funerals.

It is for these reasons we are running the Fair Funeral campaign, and have now launched the Fair Funerals pledge. With your help we hope to encourage funeral directors in all areas of the UK to commit to:

  1. Recognise funerals can be expensive and many people struggle with the cost.
  2. Make their most affordable funeral package visible to the public, including third party costs.
  3. Charge clear prices for goods and services so people know what they’re buying. Communicate prices in initial conversations and prominently display full price lists.

Funeral directors know the success of their businesses rests on local reputation, so they’ll always be interested in what people in their communities think. This puts you in a very strong position to influence the way they respond to funeral poverty. The sooner we can get funeral directors in all areas of the UK signed up, the more people we can help find a funeral they can afford.

Click here to ask your funeral directors to sign the pledge

My real ambition for the pledge is that it will give people a way to start talking about funeral poverty and holding funeral directors in their communities to account.

If you or someone you know is worried about paying for a funeral, you can call Down to Earth on 020 8983 5055.

Food, Fuel, FinanceClick here to read more about Church Action on Poverty’s work on funeral poverty, and on the Poverty Premium more widely.

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