My colleagues at the University of Bath – namely, Dr Kate Woodthorpe and Dr Christine Valentine – have published a policy brief on funeral poverty in the UK. You can visit the website to download a pdf copy of the policy document. Meanwhile, I have listed their key findings below:
- In the UK, responsibility for affording a funeral has historically rested with individuals and families. Those unable to bear this cost are often perceived as welfare dependent, rather than in need of publicly funded assistance.
- One current method of state provision is the Social Fund Funeral Payment (FP). The research indicates that this is outdated and an overly complicated system that urgently requires review. Given current changes to benefit eligibility criteria as a result of the introduction of Universal Credit and the projected rise in the number of deaths per year, the time to conduct the review is now.
- Currently, eligible claimants are obliged to commit to funeral costs before submitting their claim for a FP. In so doing, they are making poorly informed financial decisions that may result in substantial debt.
- The assessment of FP claims and who is responsible for funeral costs does not take sufficient account of the nature of contemporary family relationships.
- The current claim process is confusing and time consuming. Claimants may delay a funeral while waiting to hear the outcome of their claim.
- Cautious of bad debt, funeral directors are put in a position where they may have to turn poorer people away.
- Local authority officials are experiencing a small but notable increase in demand for Public Health Funerals, on the grounds that individuals are not prepared to organise or pay for the funeral of a family member.
- There is currently no culture of saving for death, and varying advice and guidance on how to plan for a funeral. There is a lack of state sponsored affordable and guaranteed schemes, by which people and their families can prepare for their funeral in advance.