On Tuesday Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck proposed a Bill to the House of Commons to force a review of funeral costs and funeral payments. A good thing; the funeral payment system needs reviewing. It hasn’t kept up with rising burial and cremation costs and simply doesn’t help those who are in most need.
She said her bill would “identify ways of reducing costs by reviewing funeral affordability in the UK and take immediate steps to help hard-pressed households facing funeral poverty via specific measures to reform the funeral payments social fund system by introducing a simple funeral.” – Great.
The ensuing media coverage however, across the Daily Mail, The Mirror , Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 and even the normally fairly sensible (!) Guardian, chose to focus on how the poor were burying their dead in their back gardens in DIY funerals because they couldn’t afford a “proper” funeral.
It’s a shame that the real debate was missed here. The research that Sun Life (a life insurance company remember) carried out earlier this year suggests that the average funeral costs £3,551 but that people spend an average of an additional £1833 on what are considered discretionary costs; a Minister, flowers, headstones, limos etc. Is the real debate actually about people getting into debt because they are buying these as part of a simple or basic package? Or do they buy them because they are worried about the notion of respect and “What will the neighbours think?” Because we’re taught that anything different is just not proper?
A DIY funeral is not a bad thing. Burying your loved one in your back garden is not a bad thing. (You do need to own the freehold though so we do wonder just how many of the ‘poor’ referred to in the press would qualify) They are choices people make for many reasons and saving money is just one of them.
The time and effort to plan and create a DIY funeral can be a powerful way of paying tribute or respect. It can be an empowering and healing experience and it’s very frustrating that recent messages convey such a negative tone with talk of the “stigma and shame” of a DIY funeral.
What is a DIY Funeral anyway?
DIY funerals can range from those that are completely managed by family and friends, through to funerals that have one or more elements planned and carried out by them.
For many people the question of preparing and looking after the body before a funeral is just not an option, but involvement in other areas such as leading the ceremony, decorating a coffin, producing the orders of service or picking the flowers from the garden make it no less of a DIY funeral.
We supported a family recently to lead the funeral themselves; it was lovely. It was intimate, personal and moving and had a very different structure from the kind of funeral most of us would recognize.
This is not an attack on funeral directors (we are them after all)- people appreciate help and guidance at a difficult time. Funeral Directors are brilliant people doing a difficult job (are we allowed to say that?!) but we have become lost somehow if we associate the size of a car with “respect” and “dignity”. Surely anyone prepared to dig a grave in his or her garden has a very healthy level of respect. Isn’t it simply easier to hand the whole thing over to someone else?
Funeral poverty is an issue. And it’s a good thing that Emma Lewell-Buck and her Parliamentary colleagues want the funeral payment to be reviewed. I asked my MP to support the Bill.
But instead of simply looking at how we can all afford what’s apparently expected of us – let’s have a proper conversation about what a funeral is for, what it could be and how meaningful can mean affordable.