The sharp rise in funeral poverty is one of the grimmer trends of austerity. In the past decade, funeral costs have risen by 80%. Wages simply haven’t. The insurance company Sun Life Direct says funeral poverty has risen by 125% since 2010 – a figure it calculates by assessing the shortfall between the cost of funerals and people’s ability to pay. Around one in seven people struggle to pay funeral costs, according to the company’s research. The average funeral now costs £3,163 nationally, and £4,836 in London.
If you’re on a low income, the cost of a sudden death is far beyond your modest means, and life insurance can seem like an unnecessary luxury when you’re struggling to heat your home and feed your children. All too often, relatives are struggling to raise the necessary capital for a basic funeral, and have to battle to get clear information from funeral directors on costs and expenses. While struggling with grief, many people are unclear on what is a fair price to pay for a funeral. Death isn’t a routine enough event for us to be familiar with the costs and implications of funerals. If you go through the door of a high street funeral director, and say: ‘We have no money, we want a bog-standard funeral’, they will say: ‘Our prices start at £2,600.’
People told Quaker Social Action (QSA), a small charity which offer advice on funeral poverty, of funeral directors asking whether their deceased relative “deserved better”, with staff pressing relatives to pay more for embalming as it was “dignified for the deceased”. One woman contacted QSA when she was quoted £7,500 for a funeral by a firm who told her that was standard: the charity were able to find a provider for £1,500 nearby.
The government’s social fund provides some help with funeral costs if you are eligible but it only covers around 35% of the cost, then takes three weeks to come through if successful, by which time the funeral has passed. The Social Fund has been slashed from £294m in 2010 to just £74m today, and the funds are not protected, meaning councils can raid them to relieve health and social care pressures in their area.