Ending funeral poverty: funeral directors challenged to take action

image Published: Jun 11, 2015

Heather Kennedy
Funeral Poverty Officer, Quakers Social Action

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.

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 and launched the Fair Funerals campaign to tackle the underlying causes of funeral poverty.

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.

Buying a funeral can be expensive and confusing. And there are huge differences in what funeral directors charge. 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.

It is for these reasons we 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:

  • Recognise funerals can be expensive and many people struggle with the cost.
  • Make their most affordable funeral package visible to the public, including third party costs.
  • 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.

Click here to ask your funeral directors to sign the pledge: http://www.quakersocialaction.org.uk/ask-your-funeral-director-to-sign

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.

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