The call for action on funeral poverty has been gaining political momentum over the last few years, with a Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into funeral poverty and a various parliamentary debates. Here's a summary of some of the highlights.
Over the summer 2017, the Department of Work and Pensions consulted on a raft of reforms to the Social Fund Funeral Payment, or funeral fund. The funeral fund has received wide criticism from within government and charities supporting the bereaved. The fund take a long time to process, and the service that bereaved families is often very poor, with wrong information being given and forms being lost. The fund, which was established in 1989 to cover the cost of a basic funeral for families who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford one, has shrunk drastically and now covers less than 40% of a bill for a basic funeral.
The suggested reforms, whilst welcome by Fair Funerals and others, only tweak at the edge of the funeral fund, and don't address the fundamental issues, such as lengthy processing times and the inadequacy of the fund. The consultation has now closed, and we're expecting the government to publish their response in November 2017.
Following a determined, passionate campaign led by Carolyn Harris MP who lost her own young son and found she was unable to afford to bury him, the Welsh Government scrapped child funeral fees in March 2017. Sadly, the UK Government failed to follow suit.
In December 2015 the Work and Pensions Select Committee announced an inquiry into funeral poverty, partly initiated by the efforts of Quaker Social Action and other members of the Funeral Poverty Alliance to highlight funeral poverty to the Committee. Click here to download our response to the inquiry.
The cross-party Committee of MPs called for radical reform of the benefits system for bereaved people, calling it "opaque" and "outdated". They also referred the funeral industry to the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate concerns that it is uncompetitive. And crucially, the Committee recommended that the funeral fund be increased to cover the cost of a basic or simple funeral.
The government response to the inquiry was disappointing, and action to implement the recommendations has been minimal. Click here to read the government response.
The Scottish Government have been making huge strides in tackling funeral poverty. They're Burial and Cremations Act (Scotland) proposed a clear plan for bringing down funeral costs. And following the devolution of the funeral fund, Scotland have been starting from scratch and re-designing a new fund. We're awaiting final plans for how this fund will work.
Since 2015, there's been a raft of Parliamentary debates scheduled by MPs from right across the political spectrum, calling for action on funeral poverty.
March 2017 - Frank Field of the Work and Pensions Select Committee grill the Minister over the lack of progress on tackling funeral poverty.
November 2016 - Jeremy Corbyn, in Prime Minister Questions, called for cremation fees to be scrapped for grieving parents
September 2016 - MPs from across all the main parties questioned the Minister about what they were doing to address funeral poverty.
October 2016 - led by Conservative MP Paul Maynard, MPs spoke in favour of action on funeral poverty, revealing “uncharacteristic consensus across the house.”
Brought by Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck, the Bill passed its first reading which brought cross-party support from MPs including Caroline Lucas, Frank Field, Dianne Abbott and Peter Bottomley. The Bill called for an eligibility checker so people could quickly find out if they could get help from the Social Fund Funeral Payment and the requirement that all funeral directors provide a simple, affordable funeral service.
Click here to download the full wording of the Bill.