The Good Funeral Guide Blog

The man from the Pru

Monday, 27 October 2014

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Guest post by Quokkagirl

When I was no’but a girl, I used to like Friday evenings…..because the man from the Pru used to call. I say the Pru but it could have been any insurance company. I don’t recall the specifics, but it was an insurance man. This was an exciting event because in his previous life he had been a member of a briefly famous Solihull band called the Honeycombs. That was about as exciting as life got…..that and knowing that my cousin’s friend once went out with Helen Shapiro.

This was an entirely normal weekly happening in the 1960s (and earlier) for almost every working class family up and down the country. The man from the Pru would call, mum or dad would give him a shilling or whatever a small sum was in those days (I don’t go back as far as the penny policies). This was a basic life insurance policy in the days when it was important to poorer families to know that they had at least provided enough money for their funeral. It wasn’t yet a working class aspiration to leave property and capital to their children.

Somewhere in the ‘you can have it all’ 70’s, 80’s and 90’s things changed. Insurance policies became more complex, working classes got mortgages with endowment policies attached which would not only pay off the mortgage if you popped your clogs but also leave a bit left over for your funeral expenses with luck.

Then in the noughties it all changed again – endowment policies failed to make their predicted growth and properties began to fail in their growth value. But somewhere along the line, my generation seems to have missed out on the thought processes that our parents had about who is going to pay for the funeral when you peg it. I include myself in this. When I was a young adult I had a small life policy but when mortgages and endowment policies became de rigeur, I found myself swallowed up in the hype and cancelled the old fashioned life policy.

Now we have people all over the country being plunged into funeral debt and many calls on the state to provide funding for funerals, the grants being totally inadequate for the average needs.

Now, clearly I have left it too late to start an old fashioned life policy for myself. I am staring at a life policy plan for the over 50s……or a funeral plan policy – both of which seem to have been designed by, and are the workings of, the anti-Christ. Yes, I have a smidgeon of property value and yes, I have a couple of reasonable pensions all of which will surely cover those expenses in death benefits but finding £3,500 (or even a half deposit as required by many funeral directors) overnight should I or one of mine suddenly peg it, would currently be a lump sum too far.

The alternative is to save of course. Did I hear someone say saving? And snorting with derision? Oh, that must be me then.

It’s almost too late for me. Luckily I wouldn’t want the whole £3500 shebang — a simpler and cheaper affair would suit me and my personality far better — but those of you who are younger should take note of this life-weathered old woman. The truth is, despite corporate hype or whatever the adverts tell you, nothing changes really. The basic rules of life still apply and will never change. You will die one day and someone will have to pay for it….even the basics. So get yourself the simplest and most reasonable little life insurance policy – just to pay for your send off. If anyone can recommend a simple, SIMPLE, honourable and doeswhat-it-says-on-the-tin-policy, I would be interested to hear about it. As I’m sure would the rest of you.

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Find the SunLife Cost of Dying report 2014 here


7 comments on “The man from the Pru

  1. Wednesday 29th October 2014 at 8:56 pm

    If a funeral is seen as a necessary evil we resent paying for it. Especially an expensive one.

    If it is seen as a positive occasion for the grieving community left behind then it is different. Friends and family come together perhaps who would not otherwise make the time. People take time to reflect on life and hopefully take stock of their own life and mortality. We have all been to funerals where the account of the deceased’s life proved to be a real inspiration as we move forward in life. We are reminded of the value of our human relationships and that we should number our days with care for we know not what tomorrow will bring. You need dark to see the stars.

    As for the teas, we’ll we all like a good ham sandwich so money we’ll spent!

    So leaving genuine funeral poverty aside, let’s see funerals, the ceremony and sense of occasion as a valuable product. guilt or regret should never be a reason to spend recklessly on flowers and coffins, but appreciation of life and community is a good reason to want to bring people together at such a major point in any families journey.

    So the question around those in funeral poverty should not be how can we avoid the product (ie direct cremation) but is there a way to ensure that a good, if modest funeral is available to them.

  2. Jonathan Taylor

    Wednesday 29th October 2014 at 2:48 pm

    Whenever I read what people say about funeral poverty, a huge great big elephant comes crashing into the room – always, always it is repeated that ‘a funeral costs £….’, or ‘the average cost of a funeral is £…’. These are not the price of a funeral, they’re funeral directors’ bills.

    The fact is that a funeral costs somebody the cost of disposal of the body, plus whatever else they WANT to spend, whether that’s a funeral director’s fees, a direct cremator’s fees, their own expenses, or nothing at all.

    You probably can’t make a car yourself, or a house, or enough food for your kids, so it’s perhaps fair to say what they cost. But anybody in the world can make a funeral (ok, with help if they have limited resources), as much as anyone can make a birthday party or an outing to the seaside, so what sense does it make to talk about the cost as though it were fixed? It costs what you make it cost or agree to its costing, not a sum imposed on you. The trouble is that we’re in no position to take in that information at the time of a death.

    Let’s talk about the cost of disposal. It’s the minimum, unavoidable cost (ignore body donation for now, as it’s exceptional and the medical profession can’t cut up every one of us). If you choose to accept responsibility for a funeral you can’t get round that. Here in the south west (see the map, we’re the most expensive area for a manufactured funeral outside of London) cremation’s broadly in the region of a thousand quid all-in, plus a vehicle plus a container of some sort, say around twelve hundred pounds.

    So all this talk of a three-and-a-half-grand bill is scaremongering – the extra £2000-odd is discretionary. Maybe it’s desirable all the same to some, if they get round to weighing their options at the time, which is unusual. But people aren’t aware of this, nobody talks about it, and the problem of funeral poverty is not rooted in a failure of individuals to make adequate financial provision, nor is it because of the high cost of funerals. It’s down to a failure in our culture to discuss our response to death, instead of waiting until too late (when we’re upset and there’s a body to get off someone’s premises urgently and nobody who’s advising us is telling us about our options because they’re not even aware of any options themselves except to hire a funeral director) and then still not discussing it but just paying up.

    My funeral provision comprises my funeral preferences written down on paper and stuck to the fridge door. It says if someone really wants a funeral for me they’ll need to pay, or I’ll find the money for them if they die first, but not to fret about it and not to hire someone expensive like me because we’re really not necessary to the process. In looking at funeral poverty, I suggest we should work not on persuading people to magic up huge sums of unavailable money for needless expense, but on our attitudes to death and memorialization of our dead and how that can constructively inform our disposal rituals, as well as make them less expensive. And less hyped-up.

  3. A Celeb

    Tuesday 28th October 2014 at 11:42 am

    Well said Quokkagirl. Great post.
    Even if you had enough money, no-one I know wants to spend vast sums on a funeral. Time and effort, yes. Hard earned cash, no. I’ll bet that most of the people who are cashing in their pensions early under the new scheme are not thinking about spending it on their funerals! A cruise or a new car more like.
    The first funeral I organised was 12 years ago – I didn’t shop around and probably ended up with one of the more expensive deals. However it still only cost £1600 all in. The big companies must be increasing charges to make up for what they’re losing on their pre-paids.

  4. Quokkagirl

    Tuesday 28th October 2014 at 6:17 am

    Gloria, the frustration of watching the world making a mess of things is beautifully counterbalanced by the joy of knowing it is no longer down to us to change things. I rather enjoy observing the errors of others.

    Nick, you make a valid point. A direct cremation would suit me absolutely fine, but it may not serve the needs of those I leave behind. A ‘normal’ funeral service is probably still the preferred way for the vast majority, until either the new ways naturally seep into our culture – or until someone has a direct cremation on Eastenders and Coronation Street. That would change things overnight.

    As Lucy rightly says, there is a huge difference between going down the direct route because you choose to – and being forced to because of finance. And thanks Lucy. I shall take a look at Aviva.

  5. Monday 27th October 2014 at 5:08 pm

    funeral plan policies as the workings of the anti-Christ? Spot on, Quokks.

    And I do remember the Honeycombs – they had a female drummer, a rare bird (sorry..) indeed in the early/mid 60s.

    The ever-widening gap between many of our out-dated assumptions and the way the culture actually works is scary, and this of funeral costs is a prime example.

  6. Monday 27th October 2014 at 4:44 pm

    Quokkagirl ….. “life-weathered old woman” indeed. An totally inaccurate statement I’m sure …..

    It’s curious that your post weighs the pros and cons of cost and plans and insurance and grants, and extols the virtues of a simple send off – yet does not appear to include (dare I say) direct cremation in the equation.

    Could it be that you have perused and rejected that option, or is the need for something more traditional yet simple the area that plan providers should be addressing with perhaps a little more vigour?

    We offer plan options from £1595 for a direct cremation, but are always genuinely interested in understanding what our potential clients really want for their money.

    Great post BTW


  7. Monday 27th October 2014 at 11:12 am

    When I applied for a bank loan to start my own company, it was part of the agreement that I had to take out life insurance to cover the amount the bank had let me borrow and the amount I had to beg, steal and borrow off everyone else!
    As such, I ended up with two policies to cover the whole sum. This was done through Aviva.

    If you want a pretty simple, but clearly explained life insurance policy, I would highly recommend them and they don’t cost the earth either.

    At 32, it isn’t something I would have thought about if it wasn’t part of my bank loan deal. I don’t yet have a pension and making a will has only been a passing thought.

    Funeral costs is only part of what people aren’t planning for. How many people have a will or have ever paid into a private pension?
    My Grandparents really planned for their retirement and future. If you wanted something, you saved for it. They didn’t want to rely on a state pension, so also paid into private ones. Along with all of that, they made sure they had more than enough to pay for a funeral.

    There is already a massive gap between what a funeral costs and what the Government will pay towards your funeral. I predict a big rise on council-paid funerals because people just can’t afford it and also a big rise on people choosing to go down the DIY route, not because they want to but out of necessity.

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