On 7 December Down to Earth shared its experience of issues affecting bereaved people.
The UK Commission on Bereavement is a major independent commission exploring issues and recommendations on how to improve support for bereaved people; it was established in June 2021 and will publish a final report in 2022.
QSA’s Down to Earth team was invited to give oral evidence to the commission, and Lindesay Mace (Down to Earth manager) appeared before it via a video link on Tuesday 7 December. Down to Earth provides the only UK-wide helpline for people struggling with funeral costs, as well as training other professionals and working to influence government and the funeral industry, and so has a well-informed perspective on issues affecting bereaved people.
One of the commission’s key areas of interest is the financial impact of bereavement, and Lindesay was able to summarise issues around the high cost of funerals – the focus of a recent CMA investigation into the funerals market – as well as highlighting how people are impacted by changes to their income following the death of a loved one.
Sun Life’s 2021 Cost of Dying report found that one in seven people who had to organise a funeral said it “caused them notable financial difficulty”, a 2% increase from the previous year. Royal London’s 2020 National Funeral Cost Index Report found the average debt taken on by those who struggled with funeral costs was £1,751.
Lindesay explained how worries about funeral costs can impede people’s grieving process:
“The financial stress impacts on people’s ability to grieve – they have no mental space in which to do this while they are so worried about the fact their husband, mother, son is still lying in the morgue or at a funeral director and has not been put to rest.”
Lindesay also highlighted how bereaved people can encounter administrative and financial headaches around changes in benefit entitlements, where benefits were linked with the person who has died or where the death creates the need for a new benefit claim.
“Bereavement is not one of the established circumstances you can cite for backdating Universal Credit, which effectively means you need to claim Universal Credit on the day after death.”
Another benefits-related issue highlighted by Lindesay is the fact that most full time students are ineligible to apply for government support towards the cost of a funeral if they find themselves bereaved and unable to pay (for eligible people, the funeral expenses payment, or the funeral support payment in Scotland, can help with part of the cost of a simple funeral). This is an issue which QSA will be continuing to highlight, along with the needs of other financially vulnerable bereaved people.
Taking part - UK Commission on Bereavement
The UK Commission on Bereavement is calling on anyone who has experienced a bereavement to tell their story and help shape the future of bereavement support services in the UK. You can share your experiences and ideas online before 31 December 2021.