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Funeral poverty: Speaking truth to power

  • 02/12/2019
  • Author:bridgetmccall

Quaker Social Action (QSA) launches funeral poverty report on a decade of groundbreaking work

Lilies in a vase

Turn2us receives many enquiries from people on low incomes asking for help with the cost of funerals and associated costs.

Planning a funeral is a complicated, expensive process and one that many of us will do with little or no prior experience.

The cost of a funeral for a loved one often places an unbearable financial and emotional burden on the finances of bereaved families. Many get into debt trying to pay for one and worry about not being able to afford 'a decent send-off' for their loved ones.

Funeral poverty, where the price of a funeral is beyond a person’s ability to pay, is a common problem in the UK and has increased by 50% in just three years.

Quaker Social Action

Quaker Social Action (QSA), a charity that works with people on low incomes in east London and across the UK, has been a key campaigner on funeral poverty for the past 10 years.

In November, they launched a report, 'Speaking Truth to Power', which covers the charity's work on funeral poverty over the last ten years as well as outlining its plans for future campaigns.

Much of QSA's work has been done in partnership with people affected by funeral poverty, MPs, the funeral industry, advisers and other interested individuals or organisations.

Impact of a death in the family for people on low incomes

When QSA first started thinking about the impact of a death in the family for people on low incomes, the phrase “funeral poverty” was unfamiliar. There was little or no discussion about funeral costs in Parliament or the media.

QSA became involved because funeral costs came up frequently when the charity's staff asked people on low incomes about the kinds of unexpected expenses that tipped them into financial uncertainty, debt and stress. Funeral poverty was a common theme.

To find out more, the charity then talked to bereaved people, the funeral industry, religious leaders, academics, health professionals and researchers.

They asked: What help was available for people in that gap between a death and a funeral? QSA could see faith leaders providing spiritual support, and funeral directors assisting with the practicalities. Who was there to support people worried about funeral costs? No one.

Down to Earth service

So, in 2010, QSA launched Down to Earth - the only UK-wide service for people struggling with funeral costs. This offers practical advice and support to help people access an affordable and meaningful funeral.

QSA Down to Earth service

If the funeral has not taken place

If you are on benefits or a low income, Down to Earth can support you to find a meaningful funeral that is more affordable. We mainly do this by phone, but you can also make initial contact by email. Our experienced team support thousands of people across the UK to look at their options, keep costs down, and identify ways to raise money for a funeral.

If the funeral has taken place

The service provides information and guidance on its website to support you when faced with debt following a funeral

Fair Funerals campaign

The Fair Funerals campaign in 2014 pushed for national change around funeral costs, encouraging political engagement in funeral poverty issues and promoting a coordinated approach to tackling it.

This helped bring about the Work and Pensions Select Committee's 2016 inquiry into funeral poverty, which made several recommendations, including radical reform to bereavement benefits and increasing the financial levels of the Funeral Payment scheme to cover the cost of a basic funeral. 

The campaign also called for a standardised pricing format for funeral costs; a UK-wide licensing regime for funeral directors; the establishment of a regulatory body; and the introduction of price caps.

Future work

QSA has four ambitions for tackling funeral poverty between now and 2021.

  • Help when people need it: Continuing the Down to Earth service and developing further digital resources
  • Affordable and clear pricing of funeral: Ensuring that anyone buying a funeral is able to easily access information on price - whether they visit a funeral director in person or look online
  • Support for bereaved people to meet costs: Promoting a fair level of support from the government and further increases to the Funeral Payment scheme as well as simpler eligibility criteria
  • A UK wide approach: Encouraging local authorities to adopt a consistent approach to public health funerals that can be accessed with ease and without stigma. This is very patchy at present.

If you are bereaved and on a low income

For information on the help that might be available to you through benefits, charitable grants and other help, see Your Situation: Bereaved

Sources and further information

Quaker Social Action press release: QSA launches funeral poverty report at London (includes a link to 'Funeral Poverty: Speaking Truth to Power'

Quaker Social Action: Fair Funerals Campaign website

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