Funerals shouldn’t cost families greater grief

Bereavement and grief can affect people in many ways. The ability to provide a dignified and respectful funeral can help family members and loved ones come to terms with a loss and move on. But for some families the physiological and emotional strain of funeral costs can directly affect their grief.

We need to look at how we can ensure everyone gets a dignified and respectful funeral that does not force their loved ones into harmful debt. In order to ensure everyone can afford – at the very least – a basic funeral, we need to consider a range of factors, including:

  • what local government’s charge for burials and cremations, which can vary by thousands from one area to another
  • the involvement of funeral directors in supporting families and reducing costs
  • how we plan and prepare for our own funeral
  • the availability of affordable financial products and plans

Change in Scotland

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) can provide help through the Funeral Payment. From 2017, the Scottish Government will be responsible for the Funeral Payment including who gets it and how much.

Last year, over 6,300 people in Scotland applied to the DWP for support and 4,300 received it. The average cost of a basic funeral in Scotland is now over £3,550, which has increased by 80% in the last decade. Citizens Advice Scotland has reported a 35% increase in enquiries at their bureaus about the affordability of funerals. Currently the Funeral Payment is capped at £700 plus the cost of the burial or cremation, which can lead to a significant shortfall in the final bill – often over £2,000.

The current amount available is woefully inadequate and must be raised to meet the rising costs of funerals. A third of people that apply receive no support at all. We need to look at the qualifying criteria to make sure people are not excluded from support that they should be getting.

National Assistance Funerals will still be available through the Local Authority, but this requires the family to accept no responsibility for the deceased, which can mean they have no say over the funeral arrangements and the decision can carry a stigma.

Our calls to action

We fully support the Scottish Government’s pledge to put dignity and respect at the heart of Scotland’s future benefits system and to review the Funeral Payment. However, we need a reassurance for families that this is done quickly and that the outcome is no one being forced into unnecessary debt. We would like to see the next Scottish Government commit to increasing the level of the Funeral Payment to cover the cost of a basic funeral.

Dignity and respect should be at the heart of funerals and so we need the Scottish Government to ensure that the support available reflects the principles by which they plan to deliver their social security system.

Please ask your candidates in the Scottish Parliament elections if this is something they agree with.

Find out more about ‘The Meaning of Funeral Poverty’   in a report by the Social Policy Research Unit University of York and sponsored by Marie Curie.