Quaker Social Action is delighted to have entered a three year partnership with Royal London which is providing a grant to bolster staff capacity in the Down to Earth team.
For almost a decade QSA has been working alongside Royal London to tackle the issue of funeral poverty. During QSA’s Fair Funerals campaign 2014-2018 our two organisations shared platforms and information in our efforts to influence the government and funeral industry. Our shared aim has been to make funerals more affordable for people on low incomes, given the above-inflation increases in funeral costs over a decade. Fair Funerals helped to bring about the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s 2016 inquiry into funeral poverty, which in turn led to the Competition and Markets Authority’s recently concluded investigation into the funerals market.
Royal London – the largest mutual life insurance, pensions and investment company in the UK – are committed to reducing funeral poverty, and action they are taking includes publishing an annual report on funeral costs since 2014. Royal London’s National Funeral Costs Index reports track year on year changes to funeral costs, using a simple traditional funeral as a benchmark. QSA uses key data from the National Funeral Costs Index in its ongoing influencing work. For example, in 2020 Royal London estimated that the average UK funeral cost was £3,837, and that 9% of people faced with organising a funeral struggled to pay. In turn, Royal London uses case study examples from QSA’s Down to Earth national helpline* for people struggling with funeral costs, to illustrate the human stories behind the data. Our combined campaigning efforts helped to bring about a 40% increase to the capped portion of the Funeral Expenses Payment benefit which was introduced in April 2020.
“Funeral poverty robs people of the mental space in which to grieve and can leave them with crippling debt. Royal London’s contributions to tackling this issue have been invaluable in our strategic work over the years" (Down to earth's lindesay mace)
Over the past year, Down to Earth and Royal London’s expert team on funeral costs have both been working to highlight issues around public health funerals. The Down to Earth team has gathered data on local authority websites and public health funeral policies around the country, with the aim of highlighting good practice and pushing for change where bad practice exists. QSA will soon be publishing a summary of Down to Earth’s findings, via our website and social media.
Meanwhile Royal London launched a public health funerals report in January 2020, revealing which local authorities do not allow families to attend or which deny the return of ashes. The same month, Down to Earth’s Lindesay Mace and Royal London’s Funeral Cost Expert Louise Eaton-Terry appeared together on BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours programme. They called for statutory minimum standards to address these issues and the obstacles faced by bereaved people when trying to access a public health funeral. (This was also an opportunity to advocate for a further increase in the Funeral Expenses Payment, regulation of the funeral industry and price caps.) The government has since published public health funeral guidelines, but Down to Earth and Royal London both feel they are inadequate and are engaging with industry professionals to push for statutory standards.
In the context of this longstanding collaboration, QSA was delighted when Royal London approached us about taking our partnership further, through grant funding of Down to Earth. Royal London is providing a three year grant to support extra staff capacity in the Down to Earth team, which we estimate will enable the team to support an additional 160 clients per year through the national helpline.
Down to Earth’s Lindesay Mace said
“Funeral poverty robs people of the mental space in which to grieve and can leave them with crippling debt. Royal London’s contributions to tackling this issue have been invaluable in our strategic work over the years and we have been pleased to work together to bring this injustice to life. Together we are able to raise our voices more loudly to tell the stories of the voiceless and to demand change. Our clients, those on low incomes and benefits, are especially vulnerable to funeral costs and without us they would often experience much longer delays to hold their loved one’s funeral and be left thousands of pounds more in debt. This next step in our partnership will help us continue and further our work.”
Louise Eaton-Terry at Royal London said: “The high cost of funerals remains a very real issue that bereaved families face, especially in light of the pandemic and the financial impact it has had on many people. We have worked with Down to Earth informally for years in our campaign to tackle those grieving being pushed into debt to pay for the funeral, as their first-hand experience powerfully brings to life the human impact funeral poverty has. I’m thrilled that we are now able to go further with this partnership to support the invaluable work they do and make a real difference to people at the point of need.”
*With the permission of individual Down to Earth clients.