Southend West MP Sir David Amess called for action to be taken to end funeral poverty during a Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday 11th September.
The local MP used his speech to point out some of the issues with current measures that aim to support grieving family members when organising a funeral.
Sir David cited recent research from Royal London, saying: “The average cost of a funeral at £3,757, which is a 6% increase over the last five years. This increase has had a knock-on effect, with people taking on an average of £1,744 of debt to pay for a funeral – an all-time high.”
He continued by highlighting the issues with current support measures: “The average Social Fund Funeral Payment award in 2016-17 was £1,429, around 35% of the average cost of a funeral. As a result, even people awarded a grant are left with a substantial shortfall, often leading them into unmanageable debts.”
The MP for Southend West built on his criticism of current assistance to funeral organisers, saying: “In addition to a Social Fund Funeral Payment, up to £700 can be paid for other expenses, but the cap for this payment has remained £700 since April 2003 despite the costs of funerals increasing. Successive governments have maintained that the scheme provides a ‘contribution towards the cost of a simple, low cost respectful funeral’, however the full costs associated with a funeral are often not met given this £700 limit.”
Sir David used the rest of his contribution to the debate to outline the recommendations of Quaker Social Action’s Fair Funerals campaign which ran until earlier this year. With Work and Pensions Minister Justin Tomlinson present at the debate, Sir David was keen to set out these recommendations so that they can be considered by the Government.
First, the local MP urged the Government to “raise the social fund funeral payment to cover basic costs” by making them “in line with funeral cost inflation from £700 to £1,377.”
He continued laying out his recommendations, saying: “Secondly the Government should create a plan to tackle funeral poverty. It would be highly effective for different government departments to work together to set out how to best deal with the situation.
“A government inquiry should therefore be undertaken so that recommendations can be made for improving the situation of people on low income arranging a funeral.”
“Finally, a third-party advocate scheme should also be created to provide a solution to several of the factors that result in funeral poverty. The scheme could quickly determine for people their eligibility for SFFP, and other state and charitable grants, and it could help them find a funeral that meets their needs at a reasonable price. Such a scheme would likely save the DWP time and money, as state funds would be channelled towards funeral directors charging a reasonable price, rather than those with inflated costs. That could have the overall effect of bringing prices down across the industry.”
Sir David concluded his speech, saying: “I do not want to live in a country where someone who is short of money, in this day and age, has to resort to crowdfunding a funeral”
Alongside the other MPs who took part in the debate Sir David now hopes that action will be taken at government level to eradicate funeral poverty once and for all.