Theresa May rejects Labour's plea to lift the financial burden on grieving parents, but her words suggests she has a lot to learn about funeral poverty.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has called on the government to lift the burden of funeral costs from grieving parents. In this week’s in Prime Minister’s Questions, Corbyn challenged Chancellor Phil Hammond to cancel council charges for children’s burials and cremations when he delivers his big financial statement next month.

A scheme would cost £10m a year Corbyn claimed - “a very small proportion of government expenditure” to help parents whose child had died.

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With the cost of funerals doubling in ten years and state support drying up, one in seven people now suffer the distress and stigma of funeral poverty. This leads many of them to take on unmanageable debts with payday lenders and loan sharks.

Corbyn’s plea follows the account of Carolyn Harris MP who recently spoke about the death of her own infant son and how she struggled to pay for his funeral. Whilst working as a dinner lady in 1989, she was forced to borrow money to bury her son. The funeral director discounted their fees but the local council charged £1,750 to bury him.

As Harris points out, “you can’t cope with the emotion of the loss, let alone budget for it. The answer is for local authorities to waive charges for children to give parents one less worry.”

Another mum, Colette Sim, who struggled to raise the money for her son’s funeral told the Daily Mail this week "I was devastated, but my grief was compounded by the worry and stress that I couldn’t afford to lay my boy to rest."

But the call was rejected by Prime Minister Theresa May, who said there is already help given to low-income parents through the Social Fund Funeral Payment.

What our Prime Minister doesn’t mention is that the majority of grieving people who need help to cover funeral costs get no government support.

Here are just some of reasons you’ll be turned down for a Social Fund Funeral Payment:

  • If you’re working, no matter how low your wages or unstable the work
  • If there’s any other close relative who is working
  • If your baby dies ages under 24 weeks and is stillborn
  • If you’re a student or under 18

And even if you can get a Social Fund Funeral Payment, it only covers around 40% of average funeral costs. So you’ll still be left struggling to raise the rest of the money before any funeral can go ahead, and are likely to get into unmanageable debt.

Theresa May also said that it was up to councils to decide whether they could foot the costs themselves. She says “extra revenues”, such as business rates, meant the power was in the hands of councils.

Some councils already waive their fees for children’s funerals. But without any leadership from central government, this is a postcode lottery, and grieving parents are hardly in a position to shop around different councils.

And with councils struggling to provide vital service as their budgets are slashed, especially in poorer areas, how realistic is it to expect them to fund increased financial support to grieving parents?

The government urgently need to provide a safety net for grieving people on low incomes, but this needs to be funded by central government. Government spending on funeral payments is at its lowest for more than 10 years.

At Fair Funerals, we wholeheartedly support Labour’s campaign to lift the financial burden on grieving parents.

But the campaign needs to go further. One in seven people experience severe financial hardship following the death of someone close to them. All these people need support so they can afford a decent send off, whether the person they have lost is a child, a husband, a dad, a sister or a close friend.

The government should follow the recommendation made by the Work and Pensions Select Committee in their review of funeral poverty. They said the government must fund the cost of a basic funeral for people without any other means to pay. So far their recommendations have been ignored.

We invite Theresa May and Chancellor Phil Hammond to come and meet with us and the people we work with impacted by funeral poverty. We’re sure they’d agreed her pledge to "fight against the burning injustices" of poverty must include the people who can’t afford a funeral when someone they love dies.

Ask your MP to take action on funeral poverty

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