Government Funeral Payment is Rubbish – Discuss.
As Funeral Poverty hits a record £118 million this report shows the emotional and financial distress families suffer when “begging” the state for support with the cost of funeral payments.
- Almost half of 69,000 applications for a Funeral Payment (FP) rejected
- So-called “pauper’s funerals” (Public Health Funerals) expected to rise as it becomes “too expensive for poor people to die”
- Funeral Payment applicants forced into debt by committing to funeral cost of £1,000s prior to finding out if they will receive state support
A Cost of Dying Special Report into Social Fund Funeral Payments from Sun Life Direct and the University of Bath show that the Funeral Payment scheme, intended to contribute to the cost of funerals for the most vulnerable in society, is failing to meet growing need. Funeral inflation at 7% plus a year does not go well with Government cutbacks: a growing older population is likely to bring ever-increasing pressure on an already stretched system.
There were not far short of 70,000 applications were made for a Funeral Payment last year. Almost half were thrown out, leaving vast numbers of vulnerable people forced to consider a “pauper’s funeral” or getting into debt. Even if you do get help from the Governments Funeral scheme a typical sum loan of £1,217 compares rather poorly with 2012s average cost of £3,091 for a funeral, leaving many with an large debt to pay if there is not enough money in the estate.
The study demonstrates that the Government Funeral Payment Scheme is out of touch with reality. The application process through which family members are assessed is confusion and relies on Victorian notions of the ‘nuclear family’, taking no notice of the closeness of actual relationships and whether or not anyone wishes to contribute towards the funeral. Survey respondents were often left feeling confused, frustrated and a sense of shame when applying for help. The process was also felt to be damaging claimants’ physical and emotional health, especially as over 50% were getting treatment for depression, anxiety and insomnia.
The UK is poor in the provision of state support for those who cannot afford a funeral. Death is considered a private event, not something for which State help should be common. You can see that this is a painful and humiliating position for those left behind where no provision has been made for funeral costs.
Dr Kate Woodthorpe, a lecturer in Sociology at the University of Bath and author of the report, comments: “Quite simply, it is becoming too expensive for poor people to die. Thousands of the most vulnerable in society are being let down by a system of state support that lacks coherence and is so unclear that some applicants have to resort to alternative means to organise a funeral. One participant in the study decided to undertake a DIY funeral, buying her mother’s coffin from the internet and picking up the body from the hospital in her car. She subsequently sold the car to generate cash to pay for the funeral costs.”
The UK’s ageing demographic is just making the problem of state support for funerals worse every year. The number of applications rejected for a Funeral Payment increased by 6.9 per cent, and this is likely to get worse as the death rate is forecast to rise by 17 per cent each year for the next fifteen years. With rising concerns about pensioner poverty and the cost of social care, having sufficient resources on hand to pay for a funeral is set to become an issue for a growing number of people. This is where the services of the Prepaid Funeral Review can make a big difference: early planning can put at least basic precautions in place, prevent the erosion of benefits by funds earmarked for funerals (which may earn 0.5% interest when the cost of funeral is rising 14 times faster than that) and put plans in place which will cost nothing if the “poor” relative proves not to be quite as poor as expected.
Simon Cox, of Sun Life Direct, says: “We have to ask ourselves whether the current infrastructure for end of life support is fit for purpose. Something must be done, and quickly. A good starting point would be to address the issue of timing. More often than not the claimant will need to commit to funeral payment prior to confirmation whether they will receive support. Bereaved people must know what they will receive before they agree to taking on debts, otherwise we will see the most vulnerable caught in a spiral of debt and distress.”
Stephen Pett of the Prepaid Funeral Review says “It is crystal clear both that the Government Funeral Payment System is both woefully inadequate and humiliating for those who need to apply. Things are not going to get any better in the next 20 years, if ever, so it is up to family groups to get advice and organise prepaid funeral plans with the flexibility to deal with these situations if and when they arise without imposing a sudden and unexpected burden on those left grieving.”