The Down to Earth service, established in 2010 to provide one-to-one support for people who are organising a funeral and struggling with costs, recently passed the milestone of 5,000 clients supported by our UK-wide helpline.
It is particularly poignant that this milestone has been passed during the current pandemic. During this week, 10-16 May, which is Dying Matters Awareness Week 2021, we are reflecting on our experience of helping people affected by funeral poverty.
The overall theme of this year’s Dying Matters Awareness Week is the importance of being in a good place to die, “physically, emotionally and with the right care in place”. We agree that these are vital considerations for the person at the end of their life, and for their loved ones. Another of the themes for this awareness week is being prepared for death financially. Sadly, from our decade of experience in supporting people preparing for a funeral – usually bereaved families – we know that many people who die are not in the right place financially.
The issue of funeral poverty affects thousands of people in the UK every year. With the average cost of a funeral in the UK standing at £3,837 in 2020, Royal London estimates that 9% of people faced with organising a funeral struggle to pay. As the Competition and Markets Authority discovered in its recent investigation into the funerals industry, current price levels have many years of above-inflation price increases baked into them.
Down to Earth’s small team of experienced advisors help people organising an imminent funeral to understand options and costs, to reduce costs by comparing prices, and to raise money towards funeral costs through benefit entitlements and charitable grants. Every day the team speaks to people who are faced with funeral costs they can’t afford. Low incomes/benefits, high living costs, unemployment and long-term ill health combined with soaring funeral costs can all lead to funeral poverty, as can responding to a sudden death. Down to Earth’s overall aim is to help people to achieve a meaningful funeral that does not leave them in debt.
The pandemic has caused tens of thousands of unexpected and untimely deaths in the UK. Sadly the peaks in the UK death rate were reflected in unprecedented demand for Down to Earth’s helpline. In the periods of peak demand for the helpline during the pandemic, Down to Earth implemented a ‘triage’ system, involving newly trained volunteers and redeployed staff to help manage the volume of calls and to enable the core Down to Earth team to respond promptly to clients.
Whilst the Down to Earth team’s work is challenging, and sometimes harrowing, it is also a privilege. Helping bereaved families to provide the farewell they want for their loved one can alleviate a great deal of stress, and enable them to grieve normally.
“You have no idea the pressure this takes off of us. We couldn't have done it without you. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts, you've been a godsend.”
Down to Earth client
Earlier this week the Down to Earth team shared some of their experiences via a webinar (all clients were anonymised) – you can watch a recording of this event below.