Public health funerals on the rise

Increasing numbers of bereaved families are struggling to pay for funerals, as the cost of laying someone to rest continues to spiral.

Compared with the 2 years leading up to the 2010 general election, local authorities in the north east of England spent 78% more on funerals for families who did not have the money to bury their loved ones. Families can apply for part-funding from the council to cover funeral bills, or the council will meet the full cost if the deceased’s estate does not cover the fees.

One authority faced a 100% increase in how much they paid out to cover funerals, either in full, or as a contribution to costs:

  • South Tyneside Council went from spending £500 on 2 funerals before the 2010 General Election, to 11 funerals costing £7,000 in 2013/14
  • County Durham saw its costs double, as the cost of 6 funerals and contributions was £3,015 in 2008/09, but rose to £7,386 in 2013/14

In addition, a report by insurance company Royal London showed that 100,000 of the 500,000 families bereaved each year in the UK struggle to afford the cost of a funeral, with resulting debt averaging £1,300. The average funeral in the UK now costs around £3,551, a substantial increase over the course of the last decade.

Numerous complex factors are thought to be behind this increase in need for council-funded funerals (public health funerals).

The South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck told MPs in parliament that hundreds more could face the “tragedy of funeral poverty” due to an ageing population and rising levels of debt. She said the situation had even led to low-income households using payday loan companies, and selling possessions, to fund a funeral.  

“One in five families do not have the money to give their loved ones the funeral they deserve.

“We need to start a serious discussion about how to reform the system so that people can afford to pay a fitting tribute to those they love. It’s time to put funeral poverty on the agenda.”

Lewell-Buck also said that funeral directors should be required to let people know the price of a simple service, so it’s easier for people to choose an affordable funeral.