The government is failing to support families on low incomes cope with the rising costs of funerals in Britain, according to a report published by a group of MPs.
The Commons Work and Pensions Committee has warned the country could see a return to “miserable pauper’s funerals” reminiscent of Victorian Britain, whereby grieving people will not be able to afford even the most simple funeral arrangements.
The maximum funeral subsidy currently available for people on low incomes is £700, but this sum has been frozen since 2003. This is despite evidence given to the committee by insurance group Royal London which said the average funeral cost rose by 3.9% in just one year 2014-2015.
The estimated average cost of a funeral in the UK now sits at £3,600, the Financial Times reports.
According to ITV News, the commit ee gave examples of cases where bereaved people had employed desperate measures in order to save sufficient funds for a funeral — including a woman who froze her son’s body for months until she had saved enough money.
Frank Field, MP for Birkenhead, chaired the committee. He said:
Funeral payments for those who can prove they are entitled — and that is a very uncertain and onerous process — now fall far short of covering even a basic funeral. We heard clear evidence of the distressing circumstances and debt this is leading people into, at a time when they are grieving and vulnerable. We do not want a return to the spectre of miserable ‘pauper’s funerals’.
He added: “The support for widowed parents is also badly outdated, with benefits denied to cohabiting parents. Penalising a child on the grounds of their parents’ marital status is as unjust as it is anachronistic.”
The committee recommended authorities investigate the fees charged by funeral directors, and said Whitehall should try to negotiate with the industry to reduce costs for low-income households.
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions, the government department responsible for drawing up funeral subsidies, told Business Insider over email:
We are modernising bereavement benefits, introducing a simpler and fairer scheme that will better assist people in what can be an extremely difficult time. The planned new Bereavement Support Payment will provide a higher lump sum payment than currently is offered and more people will be able to claim this full support now we have removed the lower age limit.
Stephen Crabb became secretary of State for Work and Pensions in March when Iain Duncan Smith unexpectedly resigned over cuts to disability benefits announced in Chancellor George Osborne’s budget.
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