Politicians talk funeral poverty

Stories of families being unable to afford funerals have hit the headlines. The campaign for Fair Funerals has won awards and the support of a national newspaper. But what are the politicians doing?

The subject has attracted cross-party support and several parliamentarians have been working hard to alleviate the suffering of those most in need but there is still a lot of work to be done.


In January 2014, Quaker Social Action set up the Fair Funerals campaign. This led to the formation of the Funeral Poverty Alliance, which now has nearly fifty members, including Macmillan, Marie Curie and the Child Poverty Action Group. In September of this year, QSA won the Breakthrough of the Year category at the annual Third Sector Awards, for its funeral poverty campaigning. In October, The Guardian newspaper named it their charity campaign of the month.


Meanwhile, South Shields MP, Emma Lewell-Buck proposed the Funeral Services Bill, which called on the Secretary of State to review funeral costs and urged providers of funeral services to offer affordable options. In February that bill was scheduled for its second reading but not moved for debate.


On 5th October, the Scottish Government commissioned a report to look at what can be done to relieve the financial burden and debt faced by some families and friends after a bereavement.


On the 13th October, Paul Maynard MP, organised a debate on funeral poverty in Westminster Hall. Those in attendance agreed that the current system must be improved and many cited examples of funeral poverty in their own constituencies. At the end of the debate, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson, suggested a round-table discussion with debate participants plus Baroness Altmann, Minister of State for the Department for Work and Pensions.


We followed up with the participants in that October, Westminster Hall debate and asked them, what are your New Year resolutions for tackling funeral poverty? And, is there anything you’d like our readers in your area to contact you about, regarding funeral poverty?



Nick Thomas-Symonds MP

Shadow Pensions Minister


What are your New Year resolutions for tackling funeral poverty?

To continue to hold the government to account and to press for a more strategic approach to policy in this area.


Currently the government does not even collect robust data on this issue.  So it is possible that the problem of funeral poverty is affecting more families that we realise. As a result, I am pressing them to collect more information including on the number of people who cannot afford a low-cost funeral, the number of bereaved families who fall into debt and the average costs of a funeral.


If we are to have a proper debate in Britain about funeral poverty then the government should also move to put in place an agreed definition for the term. This would help make sure policy making is properly informed.


Is there anything you’d like our readers in your area to contact you about, regarding funeral poverty?

Policy in this area should be properly informed by the individuals, families and communities affected by the issue of funeral poverty. So I would like readers to give me their personal experiences of applications to the Social Fund for Funeral Payments, and the budgeting loan process.



Paul Maynard MP


What are your New Year resolutions for tackling funeral poverty?

I will ensure politicians keep talking about the issue, so more people think ahead as to how they will be able to meet their needs and so we have the best chance possible to provide the right support at the right time to the people who need it most.


Is there anything you’d like our readers in your area to contact you about, regarding funeral poverty?

I’m always keen to hear from all my constituents about their experiences of when the system doesn’t work as it should do. Small, incremental improvements to how things are administered may not sound much on paper, but make a massive difference to people in a particular situation. Such change almost always comes about because someone contacts their MP and brings it to light, so no issue is ever too small.



Catherine West MP


Since 2004 there has been an 80% increase in the price of funerals, but wages and benefits have failed to keep pace. In London people can expect to pay more than £5,000 for a funeral yet in London the average social fund funeral payment is only £1,225 leaving a huge gap. It is an additional financial and emotional burden on families at what is already an extremely difficult time. I welcome the work many have done to raise awareness of this important issue and believe the Government must make sure the Social Fund is able to meet growing levels of need.




Mark Pawsey MP


What are your New Year resolutions for tackling funeral poverty?

As Chair of the All-Party Group for Funerals and Bereavement, I want to see the issues of concern to the bereaved raised in Parliament at every opportunity. These issues can affect people hugely and deserve the full attention of politicians.


Our Group regularly discusses funeral poverty to look at things that can be done. For example, there is support across all of the main political parties to examine the effectiveness of the Social Fund Funeral Payment. Going into next year, I want to see this dialogue continue and be able to provide positive recommendations, that the Government could then take forward to improve the Social Fund.


The Group is keen to obtain a clearer breakdown of the data from the Department for Work and Pensions on how the Social Fund is currently working. With this data we can get a better understanding of how the money is actually delivering for the bereaved. These are the kind of steps that cross-party groups can really get their teeth into, by looking at what is happening on the ground and pushing to make things more effective.


Is there anything you’d like our readers in your area to contact you about, regarding funeral poverty?

I’m always happy to be contacted by my constituents in Rugby, if they would like to share their experiences of arranging a funeral for a loved one. As well as, of course, in respect of any other issue where I can provide advice and support.



Mark Isherwood AM


What are your New Year resolutions for tackling funeral poverty?

The Cross Party Group for Funerals and Bereavement in the National Assembly for Wales has regularly examined the issue of funeral poverty and the support offered to the bereaved from the Social Fund. This support is vital to help those most in need to afford a respectful funeral for their loved ones. In the New Year, I am keen for the Group to obtain more data from the Department of Work and Pensions on the performance and distribution of Social Fund payments so we can examine how the Fund can offer better support. The Group can then explore how the Fund could be reformed and better tailored to the needs of the bereaved.


Is there anything you’d like our readers in your area to contact you about, regarding funeral poverty?

I welcome my constituents in North Wales contacting me about any issues where they believe I can assist, including all aspects of funeral poverty.



Update: December 2015


The government is currently asking people to tell them about their experiences of funeral poverty and the benefits available to bereaved people.


Frank Field MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, launched the inquiry into the Social Fund Funeral Payment on 1st December.


The committee is concerned about the rise in what are called paupers’ funerals and also problems their constituents have experienced with funeral poverty. They would like the public to write in with their experiences and any recommendations they have to improve the policies and processes relating to funeral poverty, the Social Fund Payment, Bereavement Payment, Bereavement Allowance and Widowed Parents Allowance.


The closing date for sending in your thoughts is 5th of January.


Have a look on this page for some questions the committee would particularly like people to answer and for guidance on sending in your ideas.


Update: March 2016


The Work and Pensions Committee have published their report and called state bereavement support “opaque and outdated”.

Details on the parliament website here.




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