One in eight of us will struggle to cover the costs of a funeral, on average costing over £4,700 for a burial, leading many to unmanageable debt.
The Ice&Fire podcast episode ‘Pay Now, Grieve Later’ about funeral poverty was released in March.
It shares the stories of Rick, Thomas and Teresa as they struggled to find ways to cover funeral costs.
We caught up with Lindesay Mace, who was behind the podcast episode and works for our funeral poverty support service Down to Earth. Having worked as an actor for Ice&Fire, a human rights theatre company, performing the testimonies of people like asylum seekers, she knew the "power" of "giving a voice to disenfranchised and marginalised people" and wanted to use this approach to raise awareness of funeral poverty:
"Everyone has the right to dignity in death as well as in life."
"I think that extends to their funeral and their families' right to be able to honour that person in death… it’s a human rights issue – it felt like a topic that fitted with their podcast."
She approached Rick, Thomas and Teresa (pictured with her brother), who were all previously supported by Down to Earth, and were happy to share their stories and be vocal about the injustice of the current system:
"They don’t think it’s right… they had indicated [that they] didn’t think that the current situation is fit for purpose and works for ordinary people."
Their stories highlighted the many difficulties people face in paying for funerals, as well as the different interventions that can help, such as charitable grants, the social fund funeral payment, considering different options and getting several quotes.
Thomas for example, a London cabbie and carer for his mum, had lost his job as a banker during the 2008 financial crash. After his mum died of breast cancer, and without savings between them, he had difficulty affording a funeral. He was helped to cut costs through different quotes and options such as providing his own pallbearers and using his cab for transport. However, even with these interventions the funeral still cost £2,600, a cost out of reach for many.
Lindesay described how people reacted to hearing the issues raised by the podcast:
"Shock at the experience that people have to go through, at how expensive it is, at the fact that the industry isn’t regulated...
... the fact that there aren’t any caps on fees, just shock, dismay, anger at all of those things…"
"It’s not something that people had thought about before and didn’t realise that this [was] going on…that currently not much is being done about, but hopefully, the Competition and Markets Authority will launch a full study and something will change."
Since the interview, the Competition and Markets Authority – the UK’s competition watchdog – has launched a full investigation into high and rising prices in the funeral industry.