The Prime Minister has announced that England is to follow Wales’s lead and scrap children’s funeral fees. This follows on from a passionate campaign led by Carolyn Harris MP, who lost her own child and found herself unable to afford a funeral for him.

Carolyn has previously spoken candidly about her financial struggles in paying for her son’s funeral. She was working as a dinner lady at the time of his passing, and the cost of his unexpected funeral caused her to slip into considerable debt. She has campaigned tirelessly to ensure that no other bereaved parents have to go through the same indignity as her.

 

Children’s Funeral Fund in Parliament

Fair Funerals co-hosted a parliamentary event with Carolyn and CLIC Sargent last year, with great uptake and increased awareness of the need for a Children’s Funeral Fund. ​

Her Early Day Motion calling for the creation of a Children’s Funeral Fund was the most widely-signed of 2016, with members of each of the parties calling on the government to ensure that everyone, regardless of means, has the ability to say goodbye to their child with dignity.

The call for children’s funerals to have no fees levied against them has been backed by MPs across the political spectrum, from Conservative MPs to the Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn.

 

Why is it important?

Over 4,000 children under 18 pass away in the UK each year, and the new fund will ensure that none of their parents will have to take out loans with unscrupulous lenders or foot the bill on their credit cards. The Prime Minister paid homage to the strength of parents having to deal with the pain of losing a child, highlighting that it “cannot be right that grieving parents should have to worry about how to meet the funeral costs for a child they hoped to see grow into adulthood”.

Estimates for the fund put it at around £10 million each year, a drop in the ocean and a massive help to bereaved parents who would otherwise struggle to give a dignified farewell to their child.

 

Heard it all before

When the government had previously responded to Carolyn’s pleas, they said that the help they provided through the funeral fund (the Social Fund Funeral Payment) was enough. The problems with the fund are manifold, with Carolyn saying she “couldn’t even fill a kettle, let alone fill in a 35-page application form”.

On top of that, had Carolyn been able to fill out the form in her grief, she would have found herself receiving no help from the government as she was in part-time employment at the time. As costs of funerals have climbed over the years, the fund has stagnated, and even a full payment would cover less than 40% of an average funeral.

 

What now?

The new regulations being brought in by Theresa May will mean children’s funeral fees will be waived across all of England, following hot on the heels from similar changes being enacted in Wales. Similar changes will have to be brought about in Scotland and Northern Ireland’s devolved governments to bring the UK into parity, but a moral consensus is forming that no parent should go into debt to pay for their child’s funeral. As the Prime Minister rightly states in her announcement of the scrapping of fees, “in the darkest moment of any parent’s life there is little light - but there can be support”.

This new fund is great news for the UK, but just one part of a broken system. We need wider reform to the government’s funeral fund for all people if we’re going to take away the misery and indignity of funeral poverty for as many people as possible. Our Bury the Debt campaign calls on the government to increase the amount the funeral fund pays out:

read about Bury the Debt