At the end of 2015, Scottish Government commissioned Citizens Advice Scotland to produce a report about the cost of funerals in Scotland. Final Fling met with authors John Birrell and Fraser Sutherland in December to talk ‘funeral poverty’ and feed into the report.
Funeral Poverty in Scotland report
Funeral poverty is the sad reality of people not being able to afford a funeral or running into debt trying to organise a decent send off. It’s a UK-wide issue.
The biggest issue is that few of us are ‘informed consumers’. Of course, price variance is normal is life. We see this in restaurants, hotels, clothes shops, bars. However, since few of us will ‘buy’ more than one or two funerals in our lifetime, we don’t get to know our way around. 97% of us don’t shop around for a funeral. Few would feel able to barter or negotiate. Few ask questions. We probably can’t or don’t take the time/effort to try to differentiate between various Funeral Directors and what their brand/service offers. Many don’t even know we have a choice.
Cost of funerals in Scotland
The CAS report shows the average cost of funerals in Scotland is £3,550; £2,300 for a basic funeral. £1,000 for direct cremation; no service. Average benefits paid out are £1,375. Less than half the cost of the average funeral.
The report reveals that in Edinburgh, within a 6 mile radius, 16 Funeral Directors had charges that varied between £1,620 and £2,842. In some areas prices doubled from one Funeral Director to another.
On top of the Funeral Directors’ costs for caring for and transporting the body and making arrangements with the funeral venue, there are other costs. The report gives average costs:
- Flowers – £160
- Death notice in paper – £90
- Additional limousines – £250
- Minister fees, religious or secular officiant or celebrant – £140
- Order of service sheets – £70
- Catering for wake/funeral reception – £380
- Venue hire for a wake/funeral reception – £120
- Memorial headstone or plaque – £780
In 2015 prices went up by around 10% for burials and 5% for cremation. In one council area prices went up by over 40%. The report cited a case of a woman who was estranged from her son being expected to pay £700 upfront to a funeral director to arrange the funeral. Even those entitled to claim benefits will have to find half the costs. Another woman on minimum wage wasn’t entitled to benefit and despite have significant debts, was expected to find £2,000 for a basic funeral.
Tackling funeral poverty
So, what do they recommend? They suggest there are 4 key areas that can be tweaked to get the balance right:
- reduce funeral directors’ costs
- reduce burial/cremation costs
- increase state support
- increase the individual’s ability to pay
I have some thoughts too:
- Keeping crematoriums in public ownership would be one way of keeping costs in hand… or at least ensuring they can’t require you to have a certain kind of car to get in.
- Using crematoria at the end of a day for direct cremation could make better use of energy.
- Doing away with unnecessary expensive coffins or reusing them as carriers and using simpler resources for tinder would be another.
Thinking outside the box
It’s a poor pun, but our main suggestion when we met to discuss funeral poverty was to help the public think outside the box. We don’t have to do funerals the way we do.
The report recognises this and suggests the Scottish Government should launch a national public awareness campaign like helpful blood/organ donation and Power of Attorney campaigns. This should give advice on how to:
- arrange all or part of a funeral service yourself
- deal with paperwork
- buy a coffin on line
- request an early time at the crematorium in exchange for a discount
- buying your own flowers from the supermarket
- use taxis rather than limos
- use social media rather than press notices
- find information about costs, finances and benefits.
Pretty much what Final Fling does without the budget to reach the masses. Great. Good to know we’re on the same page.
Others who think outside the box are those clever Swedes. In Sweden everyone pays towards their burial fee as part of their taxes. Genius. In South Africa, the national phone company provides free funeral insurance as part of one of its tariffs. The reports suggests Scottish Government explore some of these options along with a funeral bond.
They recognise the importance of sharing funeral wishes and recognise that some of us (“informal websites and agencies”) offer the opportunity to record funeral wishes. They think this should be a government role… an Indication of Funeral Wishes form to sit alongside a Will and Power of Attorney as part of the suite of end of life planning tools promoted in publicity.
The report looks at the fact that funerals do 3 things: dispose of a body, pay tribute to someone, provide a space for ritual. They suggest there might be other ways of doing those things. See our many blogs on rules and options, tips on creating ceremony and the no funeral option.
Meantime, remember to record and share your wishes here on Final Fling free.