Child burial fees waived in England in line with Wales
Child burial costs are now to be abolished in England, thanks to a new ruling by Parliament.
On 31st March 2018, the UK government announced that the costs relating to child burials and cremations will be waived, to allow grieving families to mourn without having to face the often hefty costs that come with burying a loved one.
Prime Minister Theresa May approved the measures, to bring England’s policy in line with Wales, who scrapped the fees near the end of last year, following a campaign fought by Welsh MP Carolyn Harris.
Wales leading the way
In November 2017, the Welsh Assembly abolished child burial fees, setting aside £1.5m until 2020 for the local authorities who run cemeteries and crematoriums. The decision was hailed by charities and public bodies alike. Previously there had been great variation in the fees charged by different local authorities with some, including Cardiff and Swansea, already having waived the charges.
Swansea East Labour MP and Shadow Home Office minister Carolyn Harris began the cross-party campaign back in 2016. Mrs Harris, whose eight year old son Martin was killed in a road accident in 1989, revealed she had to take out a loan to pay for his funeral. After the success of the campaign in Wales, Mrs Harris set her sights on Westminster, campaigning bravely through what she referred to as a “very tough, painful journey”.
Following the government’s announcement, she said: “After so much pressure and so much time, families right across the United Kingdom can know that if they’re ever in that terrible, terrible position when they lose a child, that there will now be a pot of money available to make sure that child has a dignified and respectful funeral.”
Thanks to Mrs Harris’ campaigning efforts, a new Children’s Funeral Fund will be set up to help with funeral costs for bereaved parents.
Theresa May, during the announcement, said: “In the raw pain of immediate loss, it cannot be right that grieving parents should have to worry about how to meet the funeral costs for a child they hoped to see grow into adulthood…In the darkest moment of any parent’s life there is little light – but there can be support…That is why I have asked for the Children’s Funeral Fund to be set up in England; for Carolyn, in memory of her son Martin, and in support of all those parents overwhelmed by such harrowing loss.”
According to statistics, an estimated 4,350 children under the age of 18 die each year in England.
The government had previously been criticised for not overhauling the ‘outdated’ support system. At a Work and Pensions Committee meeting in 2016, MPs heard how the Social Fund Funeral Payment (SFFP), put in place to help families pay for funeral expenses had been ‘dramatically eroded’, and how families were forced to commit to paying for funeral services before knowing whether they might be eligible for support, causing them to run into financial problems later.
The rise in funeral costs
The average cost of a standard funeral has risen by five percent since 2016, according to insurance firm SunLife’s annual Cost of Dying Report 2017, now estimated at around £4,000. This marks the 14th year the amount has been steadily creeping northwards. Since 2004, when SunLife first began tracking the rising cost of funerals in the UK, there has been a 112 percent increase. The report calculated the average overall cost of dying, including the funeral, wake, flowers, memorial and hiring professionals to administer the estate has risen to nearly £9,000.
Cost of burial has increased by 4.7% since 2016 and 116% since 2004, costing almost £1,000 more on average than a standard cremation (£3,596). For a ‘religious’ burial, the cost since 2004 has increased by nearly 150 percent. SunLife estimates that in five years’ time, the average cost of a funeral will be almost £5,000. Over past 10 years, funeral costs have increased at more than triple rate of others, including weekly wages and house prices.
There is a wide variation in costs across different regions of the UK. According to SunLife, the most expensive place to die is London, with the average funeral costing nearly £6,000. Northern Ireland saw the lowest rates and, alongside Wales, have actually seen a decrease in funeral costs since 2016. Rates are highest around the South and East UK regions, recording above the national average, while across Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and most of Northern England, funeral prices are still below the national average.
In response to soaring unavoidable funeral costs, families have begun cutting down on the amount spent on the send-off for the deceased, as this is something they have some measure of control over.
Why do funeral costs rise?
There are a number of factors that contribute to the rising cost of funerals in the UK, including cuts to local authority budgets resulting in reduced burial subsidies and raised costs to balance income, wage increases for those involved in the burial or cremation process and taking care of gravesites, a lack of space for burial sites and increasing land prices.
58 percent of funeral directors surveyed by SunLife felt that budget cuts were the main reason for the increase.
As a result of the rising costs of funerals, more and more adults are making financial provision for their own funerals. There has been an increase in the use of prepaid funeral plans since 2016, while others have made provision through savings and investments, or life insurance plans to cover the costs of their funeral.
According to SunLife, 58 percent made provisions, however, only 80 percent of those who made provisions left enough to cover the actual cost of the funeral. A third of families surveyed said the cost of the funeral turned out to be more than they expected. Sadly, one in nine families ran into financial hardship, requiring them to borrow money, use credit cards, take out a loan, use their personal savings and even sell their belongings to make up the cost, although according to the report, this decreased from one in seven in 2016.
For their report, SunLife surveyed 1,524 adults planning a funeral or administering a deceased person’s estate and conducted 100 telephone interviews of funeral directors across ten UK regions. Read the full Cost of Dying 2017 report by SunLife here.
About the Author
Church Village Funeral Services Ltd is a locally owned, independent funeral director, based in Pontypridd. Our many years’ experience in providing highly personal and dignified funeral services. We offer a range of funeral plans to suit the wishes of families and their loved ones. For more information, visit our site.
Jessie Gray has spent many years writing on topics ranging from family bereavement to promoting mental wellbeing. Her writing has been featured in several different online publications. You can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.