THE Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Revd Christopher Foster, has welcomed a government inquiry into the use of crematoria in the UK, to which the Church of England will be submitting a proposal, but criticised its timing and “consumer” terminology.
The Chancellor, George Osborne, announced the opening of a consultation period, in the March Budget, to review the number, location, and capacity of crematoria in the UK, and to assess whether existing crematoria are suitable to “meet the demand and cultural requirements of all communities”.
A discussion paper on the review was released by the Government on 16 March to gather evidence from crematorium “users and providers”, councils, faith groups, and members of the community.
Interested parties can contribute comments through an online survey, or via email, or post. The consultation period closes on 26 May.
“I welcome the consultation,” Bishop Foster said on Tuesday, “albeit that the deadline for response is tight and that the term ‘users’ reflects a consumer approach to what is a moment of sensitivity for bereaved families and the wider community.”
He went on: “It is right that around death the service available is respectful, sensitive, and able to meet the appropriate timescales, within reasonable geographical distance, and needs of those who mourn the death of someone close, honouring their faith traditions.
“The Church of England is preparing a formal response through the Mission and Public Affairs Division,” he said.
The discussion paper Review of Crematoria Provision and Facilities quotes the Directory of Crematoria 2015, produced by the Cremation Society of Great Britain, which suggests that more than 390,000 cremations took place in England last year; a representation of 77.35 per cent of all deaths in that time.
“Cremation is the normal method of funeral for Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and Zoroastrian faiths, and is also widely used by Christian denominations and those with no faith,” the paper says. “It is important that there are good quality crematoria that respect cultural and religious traditions and that provide tailored services, meeting the needs of families at such a difficult point in their lives.”
Bishop Foster had previously expressed his “surprise” and “shock” at the announcement “made in the Budget, of all places”, in March. The review was first mooted in the July Budget last year.
Speaking in the House of Lords at the time, he said: “While issues about the number, location, and size of crematoria are important, they cannot be addressed in isolation from others involved in ministry and provision at and around death, such as churches, ministers, and funeral directors, if the stated aim is to be fulfilled, responding sensitively to relatives and to people of all faiths.”
Reports suggest that the review may have been a response to escalating cremation costs: official figures obtained by the BBC from borough councils in August state that cremating an adult currently costs an average of £640 — up from £480 five years ago.