This week members of the Funeral Poverty Alliance, of which CLIC Sargent is a part, wrote to the Minister of State in the Department of Work and Pensions, Baroness Altman asking her to meet with us to discuss reforming the Social Fund Funeral Payment and look at the wider problem of funeral poverty.
We highlighted the high cost of funerals and pointed out that prices have now risen above inflation for the past 35 years, with a cumulated increase of 300% in the last 20 years. This compares to a 150% increase in the Consumer Price increase and a 150% increase for median earnings.
We made several suggestions about how the Funeral Payment could work better for bereaved people on low incomes. When the Payment began it was intended to cover the overall cost of a simple funeral, but over the last 12 years the value of grants awarded has been dramatically eroded in real terms. This leaves a financial shortfall, pushing bereaved people on low incomes into unmanageable debt which they often have no means of paying off.
The average award in 2014-2015 was £1375, which covers around a third of the cost of a basic funeral. During the same period nearly half of all applications were turned down. Although in 2014-15 32,000 payments were awarded worth about £44 million, the amount spent on the Funeral Payment has only increased around £2 million since 1988.
We made the following recommendations to Baroness Altmann:
- Policymakers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to follow the lead of the Scottish Government and conduct a cross-departmental inquiry into the underlying interrelated issues that are causing funeral inflation including; pressures on local authorities, the use of burial space and the privatisation of crematoria and burial grounds.
- A full and fundamental review of the SFFP as part of a wider review of financial support for those facing bereavement.
- A review of the SFFP response times. Currently the DWP has a target of 16 working days to process applications (currently achieving an average of over 17 days) but for client of Down to Earth, applications currently take around 30 days to process.
- A review of the SFFP application process whereby a receipt can be sent upon application – frequent “lost” applications cause particular pain.
- A review of the SFFP application process whereby applicants are given eligibility checks as to the likelihood of payment. This would save pain to the bereaved and significant time and money saving to the DWP.
- Policy makers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to take account of the experience in Scotland where the removal of a necessity for additional medical certificates for cremation has resulted in the differential between burial and cremation costs being reduced.
- Wider funeral industry participation in the Fair Funerals pledge asking funeral directors to provide clear, comparable prices so people know what they’re buying. It also asks them to make their most affordable funeral visible to the public.
Hopefully Baroness Altmann will respond to our letter, keen to explore what can be done within her role as Minister of State to make life better for bereaved people on low incomes trying to arrange a funeral.