This new report to the Scottish Government sets out far ranging recommendations to tackle funeral poverty
Today, Citizen’s Advice Scotland and the Scottish Working Group on Funeral Poverty launch a series of recommendations to the Scottish Government to lessen the impact of funeral poverty in Scotland. Their recommendations are laid out in the report Funeral Poverty in Scotland: A Review for Scottish Government and follows a comprehensive review of the flawed system where funeral directors and local authority fees are rising sharply, support from the state is drying up and bereaved people are left with crippling debts.
The Working Group say that since they began in 2011, 'it has become clear that the struggle to afford to pay for a respectful funeral is affecting more people than previously thought'.
Bringing burials and cremations into the 21st century
With the introduction of the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill last October, the Scottish Government has been far ahead of the UK government by recognising funeral poverty is an issue that spans across government departments. This Review makes 25 recommendations that address areas not tackled by the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill. (The Bill is designed to provide better scrutiny and governance of burials including clarifying the process of burial and cremation but most importantly contains proposals to regulate the funeral industry with a licensing scheme for funeral directors. It is the first attempt at modernising legislation in this area for 100 years.)
The Funeral Poverty Alliance pushes for change
Citizens Advice Scotland and the Working Group are both active members of the Funeral Poverty Alliance coordinated by Quaker Social Action. The Alliance has been encouraging other governments of the UK to follow the lead of Scotland by making far ranging policy reform to make a sustainable impact on funeral poverty. The Funeral Poverty Alliance meet again in March and we will discuss our role in taking forward these recommendations and lobbying the governments of the UK to take action.
Whilst drafted for a Scottish audience, the Review ‘urges the Scottish Government to put pressure on the UK government’ particularly with UK-wide benefits such as the Social Fund Funeral Payment. (This benefit was intended to cover the cost of a basic funeral but now falls far short, often paying little more than a third of a funeral’s cost.)
Will the rest of the UK follow Scotland's lead?
The recommendations made in the report have UK-wide implications and we urge Westminster to study these recommendations carefully with a view to implementing policy change across the country. One urgent recommendation would be a cross-departmental review. Besides the Department of Work and Pensions, many other ministries and ministers are involved in the process of dying, death and bereavement including: Caroline Dineage MP at the Ministry of Justice; Ben Gummer MP at the Department of Health; and Greg Clark MP at the Department of Communities and Local Government.
The review recommends that the government ‘undertakes further research to better understand people in Scotland affected by rising funeral costs and how this impacts on their ability to afford a respectful funeral for their loved one and how it impacts their experience of grief’.
As an issue that is affecting more and more people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland too, Fair Funerals would like to see research carried out across the whole of the UK.
One such call to action is that the ‘UK government and Financial Conduct Authority review the current self-regulation environment for funeral plan providers’. Without proper regulation, the funeral industry is essentially free to charge what it wants, meaning consumers can end up buying funerals they can’t afford.
The report proposes the Scottish Government set up a Scottish Funeral Bond Funeral (SFBF) which aims to tackle rising costs by ensuring ‘all funeral directors offering [it] should be required to offer the service at an agreed price’. The Bond is a ‘basic funeral’ of sorts, with an agreed, visible price. The Bond follows on from the Fair Funerals pledge which urges funeral directors to offer basic, affordable funerals with transparent pricing.
The Review ‘recommends that Scottish Government facilitate greater public and personal discussion, to encourage open and honest conversations around dying, death and bereavement.’ Fair Funerals fully support the call for frank public discussion. Later this year we will launch materials to encourage people to discuss their funeral wishes and think about how they’re going to pay for their funeral.
The Review makes many recommendations for Scotland that Fair Funerals would like to see extended to the whole of the UK. The recommendations include:
• That the UK Government and Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) review the current self-regulation environment for funeral plan providers.
• That due to the cross-cutting nature of matters relating to dying, death and bereavement a special political lead be tasked to ensure a consistent approach to death and bereavement in government.
• Urge that the Scottish Government put pressure on the UK Government to address the decreased value in real terms of the Social Fund Funeral Payment.
• Scottish Government undertakes research to better understand the numbers of people affected by funeral poverty in Scotland.
• That the Scottish Government proceed with licensing funeral directors under the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill 2015.
• That complaints made about funeral directors undergo a rigorous process of dispute resolution.
• That councils should have to justify price increases and be encouraged to pursue the move towards parity.
• That a respectful and dignified public funeral is consistently carried out across Scotland.
• That Scottish Government Ministers explore working with credit unions and community finance so that resources are available for arranging a funeral.
• That the Scottish Government sponsor a publicity campaign to increase awareness of funerals and funeral costs and facilitate greater public discussion generally of dying, death and bereavement.
You can view the full Review and list of recommendations here.