A parliamentary petition calling for an end to children's funeral fees has received more MP signatures than any other for the whole of 2016. The ‘Early Day Motion’ (EDM) has been signed by 152 MPs from all the main political parties.
EDMs are used to show there’s government support for an issue, but there’s rarely as much interest as for the campaign for a children’s funeral fund led by Carolyn Harris MP. The EDM had 152 signatures (and counting), a stunning triumph for the fight against funeral poverty.
Carolyn’s personal story has resonated widely. She was working as a dinner lady and barmaid when her eight year old Son Martin died. She was simply unable to afford to pay for his funeral. Her situation was far from unusual, and 1 in 7 of us will have huge financial difficulties paying for a funeral.
“When the undertaker was explaining to me what the plans for my little boy’s funeral were, I just wanted to hold my little boy, not bury him. I remember the day the bill arrived and that fear in my stomach as to how I would pay it.”
Funerals unaffordable to low income people
Many funeral directors will waive the fees for a child’s funeral but most local authorities charge for their cremation and burial services. With huge cuts to their budgets from central government, most councils feel they can’t afford to waive their fees. An average funeral now costs £3897, being out of many people’s financial reach.
Carolyn’s campaign calls for the government to put £10 million into funding children’s funerals across the country, a drop in the ocean that would reduce a massive burden on bereaved families. The amazing response to the EDM shows that there’s a clear appetite to secure this change.
Is the government doing enough?
Theresa May has told Carolyn that she doesn’t support a children’s funeral fund because the government are already doing enough to help people in funeral poverty. In fact, spending to help people who can't afford a dignified funeral has sunk to its lowest level in ten years. The government funeral grant is available to some people who would otherwise be unable to afford a funeral. But the grant was capped 13 years ago and now only pays for around 40% of the cost of a funeral.
And most people who can’t afford a funeral are eligible for any help. You won’t get a funeral grant if anyone in your family is working, no matter how little they might be earning. Even though Carolyn was in low paid work when her son died and didn’t have thousands of pounds sitting around in the bank, she wasn’t eligible for any help from the government.
We work with hundreds of people every year who can’t afford a dignified funeral but are not eligible for any government help. This pushes then into severe financial and emotional distress and often saddles them with huge unmanageable debts.
Our Down to Earth project supports people on low incomes who can’t afford a funeral.
All eyes are now on Theresa May to see whether she’ll listen to the 152 MPs who signed the EDM and lift the financial burden on grieving parents.
Get in touch with Theresa and ask her to have a heart this Christmas - tweet @theresa_may and ask her to support a children's funeral fund, because grieving parents shouldn't be facing #FuneralPoverty