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21 Jan, 2014 12:15

'Can’t afford to die': British families on low incomes struggle with 'funeral poverty'

'Can’t afford to die': British families on low incomes struggle with 'funeral poverty'

Over 100,000 people in the UK will hardly manage to pay for a funeral this year. With the average cost of dying having risen by 7.1 percent, the poor simply cannot afford to pay the costs of funerals, a survey has found.

The average cost of dying, including funeral, burial or cremation and state administration, currently stands at £7,622 ($12,528), a rise of 7.1 percent in the past year, according to the latest study at the University of Bath's Institute for Policy Research.

"With growing funeral costs, quite simply growing numbers of people might find they can’t afford to die," Chief Executive of the International Longevity Centre-UK, Baroness Sally Greengross, stated on the University's website.

"Government must act now before the current issue of funeral poverty becomes an even more significant future crisis. As a society we don’t talk enough about dying. But nor do public policy makers. We must find a way to open a debate about dying and ensure that we and our families are as prepared as we possibly can be."

The cost of dying has steadily increased over recent years in spite of the lowest ever recorded mortality rates for England and Wales, the researchers say. The average cost of a funeral rose by a staggering 80 percent between 2004 and 2013, however, and the costs of dying are expected to continue to increase over the next five years.

There were 499,331 deaths registered in England and Wales in 2012, compared with 484,367 in 2011 and 535,356 in 2002. Before 2009 the last time that death registrations fell below half a million was in 1952, according to UK's Office for National Statistics.

"In order to ensure that poor people are not further marginalized or stigmatized for being unable to afford a funeral, provision for funeral costs requires attention from the wider public, commercial and third sectors," the authors of the study recommend, adding that funerals need to be included within debates about "how care at the end of life and other associated costs will be funded, for example, by promoting a culture of financially preparing for death."

The price of a typical funeral, including non-discretionary fees and a burial or cremation, is currently £3,456 ($5,677). The average amount spent on extras such as a memorial, flowers and catering is £2,006 ($3,295). Discretionary estate administration costs have also increased significantly, to £2,160 ($3,551).

The Social Fund Funeral Payment (FP), introduced back in 1988, is meant to support those who struggle to find the money to pay for a funeral. However, the authors of the study challenge the "effectiveness and availability" of this provision. By highlighting an average shortfall of £1,277 ($2,099) that many face, the report suggests that "funeral poverty" is currently 50 percent higher than three years ago. As funeral costs continue to rise, the amount currently provided by the FP means that successful claimants are typically left with an outstanding debt.

The report also found that the local authorities have experienced "a small but notable increase" in demand for Public Health Funerals, on the grounds that individuals are not prepared to arrange or pay for the funeral of a family member.

"We know that the long term decline in death rates is about to reverse, with a projected rise in the number of deaths around 15-20 percent in the next two decades. We also know that right now, with some of the lowest death rates ever recorded, the safety nets provided by the state via the Social Fund Funeral Payment and local authority Public Health Funerals are under pressure. Their sustainability into the future is debatable," the lead author from the Centre for Death & Society, Dr Kate Woodthorpe, explained.