Fighting Funeral Poverty In Northern Ireland

28th September 2018

Fighting Funeral Poverty In Northern Ireland

The cost of funerals has been growing over recent years causing additional stress and strain on families trying to cope with bereavement. In our blog this week, Craig Harrison from Marie Curie tells us what they are doing to campaign against funeral poverty.

Funeral poverty is a significant problem across the UK. Research shows that one in ten people have taken on debt to pay for a loved one’s funeral, and current levels of funeral poverty are valued at over £130m.

In Northern Ireland, Marie Curie sees a number of factors contributing towards the issue.

Firstly, despite being among the cheapest places in the UK for a funeral, the cost in Northern Ireland is still incredibly high, and has grown significantly during the last decade. In 2004, the average cost of a funeral here was £1,589. This has now risen to £3,231 – an increase of 103%.

Burial costs also vary widely across different council areas in Northern Ireland – costing several times more in places like Belfast than they do in Fermanagh or Mid Ulster.

While the cost of funerals has been rising, financial support for those who struggle to pay has been drying up. Government spending on the Funeral Expenses Payments Scheme (funeral payments), which provides a contribution towards the cost of a basic funeral for those on qualifying benefits, dropped by 15% between 2012/13 and 2016/17.

Even when people are given support under the scheme, they are still left with a significant financial shortfall to make up, as the average award covers less than 35% of the cost of an average funeral.

To make matters worse, the value of the scheme has also been depreciating due to a £700 cap placed on the amount that can be awarded for things like coffin costs and funeral director’s fees. This cap has remained in place since 2003; had it risen in line with inflation, it would have been worth over £1,000 in 2017.

It seems we have the makings of a perfect storm. With funeral costs remaining high, financial support from government declining, and the number of deaths in Northern Ireland expected to rise faster than anywhere else in the UK over the next 20 years, funeral poverty here will only continue to grow without urgent action.

Marie Curie recently launched a new campaign in Northern Ireland to help start the fightback. At the heart of this is our new Funeral Poverty Charter, which argues that everyone in Northern Ireland should have the right to:

  1. A dignified funeral without the legacy of unmanageable debt
  2. Clear and timely information about funeral costs
  3. Affordable and comparable funeral costs no matter where they live

Funeral debt and funeral poverty can make an already difficult time overwhelming for bereaved people – causing significant psychological distress, including feelings of guilt, inadequacy and stress, with a lasting impact on health and wellbeing.

No one should have to take on unmanageable debt just to give their loved one a proper send off, and we want to support people to help avoid this situation wherever possible.

Working with regional and local government and other stakeholders, Marie Curie is committed to eradicating funeral poverty wherever it exists in Northern Ireland.

Have you struggled to afford giving someone close to you a decent send off or been affected by funeral poverty? If you’re happy to share your experience please contact craig.harrison@mariecurie.org.uk.

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