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‘Pauper’s burials’ might return as costs increase

24 January 2014

By Helen Pye


PAUPER's burials could soon make a comeback, as more than 100,000 people will struggle to pay funeral costs this year alone, a study suggests.

Research by the University of Bath's Institute for Policy Research found that a small but growing number of families are turning to taxpayer-funded "public-health funerals" when they are unwilling or unable to pay for the funeral themselves.

The cost of a funeral - burial or cremation, and state administration - has risen by 7.1 per cent in the past year to £7622, including estate- administration costs, and extras such as food and flowers. This constitutes an 80-per-cent rise in the cost of dying since 2004.

The study predicts that there will be a sharp increase in the number of families relying on this kind of funeral as the ageing population in the UK causes the death rate to increase.

A survey by the Local Government Association found that about 2900 such funerals were carried out in 2011. Local councils have a duty to dispose of bodies under public-health law, and, typically, a simple service is followed by a cremation or burial in a communal grave. The body is often transported in a van rather than a hearse.

Dr Kate Woodthorpe, from Bath University's Centre for Death and Society, said that the stigma association with a "pauper's funeral" is changing as families have no other alternatives.

"The system was never intended to be a 'choice': it was intended to be the ultimate backstop - a body needing to be disposed of, which has to happen, because someone has to take responsibility for it."

She said that the concern for funeral directors and for the Government is that the number of people who are unwilling to pay for a funeral rather than unable may grow.

The chief executive of the International Longevity Centre-UK, Baroness Greengross, said that the Government needed to give people more help. "With growing funeral costs, quite simply, growing numbers of people might find they can't afford to die," she said.

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