When Theresa May made her first speech as Prime Minister, she vowed to help families who were “just about managing” (JAM). But what happens if you’re ‘just about managing’ and someone dies?
'JAMs' is the term given to working families across the country who struggle to pay their bills and who have little money left over to pay for luxuries or unexpected life events.
There are six million working-age households on low to middle incomes in the UK.
In yesterday’s Autumn Statement, the Chancellor Philip Hammond promised to lift the burden on hard up JAMs. He made much of his decision to soften cuts in state benefits, but they will come nowhere near to making up for the £12bn of welfare cuts announced by George Osbourne in 2015.
But what happens when people who are ‘just about managing’ suffer an unexpected financial knock such as a bereavement? An average funeral costs nearly £4,000 and the costs are much higher for a burial in most parts of the UK. Who has this amount money sitting around in the bank, especially if you’re in low paid work?
And families where someone is working won’t get any help from the government funeral grant (called the Social Fund Funeral Payment). The grant, available to some people who have no other money to pay for a funeral, isn’t available to families where someone is working, no matter how little they may be earning.
When Billy’s son died unexpectedly, he was turned down for a funeral grant because his grandson is on a zero-hour contract:
“The DWP told me I wasn’t the next of kin so I couldn’t apply for the grant. How can I not be the next of kin? He was my son. They told me I should ask my grandson to pay for the funeral. But he’s only 18 and only on a zero hour contract. He’s got no money. And I only have my pension. We ended up having to borrow money from a friend. I’m still paying off the funeral director, £55 a week.”
We invite Theresa May and the Chancellor Philip Hammond to come and meet some of the people we work with who can’t afford a funeral when someone they love dies.
A campaign has recently been launched by the Labour Party and the Daily Mirror calling on the government to help cover funeral costs for grieving parents. In Parliament yesterday, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell called on the government to “do the right thing” and put £10m towards children's funerals. The campaigns wa sparked by the personal testimony of Carolyn Harris MP, who was working as a dinner lady when her son died. She was unable to afford the money to bury her son.