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Poverty and the cost of a decent funeral

07 November 2014


From Mr Niall Cooper

Sir, - Your report on increasing levels of funeral poverty (24 October) is timely. Church Action on Poverty recently helped to launch a new National Funeral Poverty Alliance, led by Quaker Social Action, which aims to call for action by government to tackle funeral poverty as a social justice issue; call on the funeral industry to tackle funeral poverty as a consumer issue; and help people gain the skills and knowledge they need to avoid funeral poverty.

Our common vision is of a society where everyone has access to a funeral that is affordable, and doesn't leave them facing financial hardship; is meaningful to the deceased and/or those arranging the funeral; and allows people to grieve without further financial distress.

The impact of funeral poverty can be financial, in the form of a legacy of debt. It can also be emotional in the form of the distress, shame and perceived stigma of not being able to provide a "decent send-off". Debt, poverty, and emotional and psychological distress also have clear health and social care implications - and costs - for those left behind.

We are working actively with churches, the voluntary, community, and social-enterprise sector, and the funeral industry to reduce funeral costs while maintaining quality and standards. But we increasingly find people questioning whether funerals should be run as a business at all.

Seeing the whole process as a social service rather than a purely commercial opportunity would not only potentially reduce funeral poverty, but also allow funeral-providers to concentrate more on the pastoral care of the bereaved. It would reduce the health- and social-care costs caused by funeral poverty.

Church Action on Poverty
Dale House, 35 Dale Street
Manchester M1 2HF


From the Revd Margery Töller

Sir, - Tim Wyatt reports that people resort to DIY funerals for financial reasons (News, 24 October). In my experience, people often decide to do aspects of funerals themselves for other reasons that are at least as important to them as reducing the cost.

For example, they find being driven to a cemetery or crematorium by a friend in their own car much nicer than by a stranger in a limo; having relations or friends carry the coffin of someone they knew and loved rather than anonymous bearers can be deeply moving; and flowers picked from one's own garden, or the garden of the person who has died, can mean much more than florist's flowers, etc. One of the loveliest funerals I have been to was that of a friend whose relatively cheap, simple wicker coffin, covered in wild flowers, was carried by her two godsons and two nephews.

Of course, it is often easier to do things in a more personal way if you have given it some thought and done a bit of advance planning before someone dies. Two useful websites are goodfuneralguide.co.uk and naturaldeath.org.uk, which also gives details of The Natural Death Handbook, an invaluable resource.

A growing number of online funeral directors offer cheaper funerals and great flexibility in who does what and how.

116 Augustus Road
London SW19 6EW


From Miss Primrose Peacock

Sir, - Funerals may cost what Tim Wyatt states, but he omits any mention of funeral plans. Golden Charter and other similar companies make it possible for anyone over 55 to buy a funeral plan.

Payment can be made in instalments if necessary, the service, music, flowers, eulogist, and other details all arranged in advance. Burial is more expensive than cremation, but the whole arrangement made with a named undertaker is politely and carefully organised. There should not be any problems, and it is much less expensive than Mr Wyatt suggests.

4 Crescent Rise, Truro
Cornwall TR1 3ER

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