Can you afford to die? The price of a funeral is high, costing on average around £4,271 (2020) – a huge amount for a normal family, especially when they are grieving. For poorer families, the expense is even more distressing. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, more and more poor working families have turned to crowdfunding on sites like GoFundMe to raise monies to bury their dead, which is shameful in a modern, progressive society.
According to the Royal London National Funeral Cost Index, in 2017, a fifth of Britons struggled to pay funeral costs. The average funeral debt of £1,680 sees people having to borrow from family or friends or take out bank loans. The expense of funeral costs is pressure enough on grieving families, without them having to worry about paying off debts to bury their relative. And costs are rising, year on year.
The industry – and be in no doubt it is big business – seems to be taking advantage of people at this vulnerable stage of their lives. They have been hiking up prices disproportionately to the rate of inflation for several years now. Some blame the increase in the cost of land for burials; maintenance of crematoria; rising fuel bills; higher wages for celebrants, crematoria staff, gravediggers; and council budget cuts, all of which mean that running costs rise. But funeral costs have risen by up to 122 percent over the last 15 years, which is extraordinary for a period when average inflation was only around 25 percent.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) agrees: it published the results of a market study of the funerals sector in March 2019, and initiated a probe into the disproportionate price increases. It disagreed with the reasons funeral directors gave for these high prices and recognised that most of the increases were to please their company shareholders with higher profits. It condemned the suffering of poorer families who are worst affected by funeral costs.
Check out these other articles from Yorkshire Bylines:
- Funerals: rituals and grief during the Covid-19 pandemic, by Jimmy Andrex
- Parliamentary group told: “Death is not the only thing to count in this pandemic”, by Stella Perrott
- A perfect storm for predatory marriage, by Daphne Franks
We might like to think that funeral poverty would be a priority issue for the government, given its effect on thousands of working class and poorer families in the UK, many of whom helped Boris Johnson become prime minister by “lending” the Conservatives their votes. Currently, however, the PM seems to be more concerned about which songs can be sung on the BBC’s Last Night of the Proms.
There are things we can do ourselves to make funeral costs more affordable. Some people take out a funeral plan to pay these costs ahead, or an insurance policy to spread the cost over a number of years. Shopping around for funeral directors has shown a £1,000 difference in price between different businesses. Costs can be further cut by choosing environmentally friendly cardboard or wicker caskets, rather than expensive hardwood with brass fittings. A woodland burial costs less than burial in a cemetery, and cremation is cheaper than burial. There is also the option of direct cremation, with no service and no mourners present (a memorial party can be held later). And it’s possible to leave your body to medical science (if they’ll accept it!). Discussing such funeral options and preferences with family members is not an easy conversation but it’s one we all need to have. The one certainty in life is that we are all going to die.
The CMA is hoping that further investigation can come up with solutions to make prices more competitive in the market. However, until then, poorer families will continue to be disproportionately affected by funeral costs, a scandal for which the funeral industry must take responsibility. More information as to all of the choices available would help, as would an acceptance on the part of the industry that the cost of dying should be in line with the cost of living.