The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Intellectual poverty

Wednesday, 10 December 2014



“People are also turning to alternatives to the traditional funeral. Some are holding do-it-yourself funerals, and even having to bury relatives in their back garden. A number of companies are offering cut-price funerals, including “direct” cremations that have no formal service attached to them.”

That was Emma Lewell-Buck MP presenting the Funeral Services Bill in the House of Commons yesterday and somehow managing to name-check Royal London three times in the first 4 paragraphs.  

You’ve read about this because it’s everywhere — the lurid claim that disadvantaged people are burying their dead in their back gardens. I expect you felt, as we did at the GFG, that Ms Lewell-Buck under-egged her argument. For she must know as well as us that poor people are routinely and in sharply rising numbers also disposing of their dead in wood-chippers, acid baths, on garden barbecues and in country lay-bys. 

 What’s odd/interesting/remarkable is that no one seems to have queried her claim. Anybody in possession of a right mind would, you think, have smelled an XL rat and called her bluff. 

 Nope.  The readiness of the great British public, including the great British press pack, to suspend their incredulity when presented with ocean-going baloney about funerals is amazing.

 So, well done Ms L-B, you seem to have got away with it. Well done for stigmatising DIY funerals and direct cremation while you were about it. Well done for branding a public health funeral a pauper’s funeral. And well done for distracting people from serious discussion of the issues. 

 We are sorry to hear that your Bill will lapse due to lack of parliamentary time.


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Pic of a poor person digging a grave in his garden in today’s Metro 


17 comments on “Intellectual poverty

  1. Thursday 11th December 2014 at 6:52 pm

    She is a Labour MP, perhaps hoping to draw attention to this all being a by-product of the wicked Tories economic failure and savage cuts?

    A care-home called us today, having recommended our business to a family who live some distance away. The family then called us, and said ‘but if you’re too expensive, we wont be using you.’ I believe this caution was as a direct result of those ‘greedy overpriced undertakers’ stories we all saw and heard this week.

    • Charles

      Thursday 11th December 2014 at 7:17 pm

      Get real, David, if you people didn’t exist no one would die.

  2. Jonathan Taylor

    Thursday 11th December 2014 at 3:36 pm

    “The problem with funerals is not that they cost too much, but that they cost at all. The funeral that communities used to provide for themselves has been stolen, and then sold back to them, at a price. We are now so used to this that all we can complain about is the cost at which it is sold back!”

    (Topny Walter, 1990, p 80)

  3. Thursday 11th December 2014 at 1:56 pm

    I’m afraid this is just the usual funerals are interesting, so let’s not bother with the facts media storm. This time, caused by a probably well intentioned MP, but really, it’s depressing.

    The real funeral poverty story is lost. The alternative funerals are good story is lost. The media won’t come back to this subject now for months, years even.

    Have you ever noticed, coach crashes and plane disasters are reported in a similar way? Once one occurs, the papers follow up every other minor non event until they get bored and move on. Add dog bites/killer dogs to the same sorry list. Radio pnone-in shows follow Fleet Street slavishly.

    • Thursday 11th December 2014 at 2:29 pm

      Ah yes, killer sheep syndrome, David.

      Well intentioned? Don’t know about that. She needed a soundbite, and it bit her on the bum.

      At the same time, her allegation has already passed into urban myth. It adds welcome spice to prole porn.

  4. Thursday 11th December 2014 at 1:49 pm

    Plucky of you to stick up for them, Michael. But I’m sure you understand why a great many people might regard peddlers of financial products with a wary and untrusting eye in the light of recent shenanigans. The Parky Over 50s insurance instrument seems to be rated a bit of a minger. I find that people on the whole do not regard CDAS as being gilded by association.

    I would say that. I am poor and not very bright and we get very chippy and Russell Brand-y down here among the cabbage stalks.

    • Michael Jarvis

      Thursday 11th December 2014 at 4:18 pm

      Come on Charles, you shouldn’t do yourself down, even in jocular fashion; you do a grand job and are much appreciated for it.

      Perhaps I should expand slightly re: my position on insurers. I don’t think they are all paragons of virtue and I’m well aware of most of the (more often than not) justifiable criticisms that have been levelled against them, particularly in recent years. However, I do give them credit for their work on statistics which I have certainly benefitted from, and by extension, so have some people whom I have advised. Even with statistics, though, matters could be improved, not regarding the figures themselves but in the reporting thereof. For example I think it’s wholly misleading to include probate fees in funeral costs…

  5. Michael Jarvis

    Thursday 11th December 2014 at 12:55 pm

    I was in the public gallery and witnessed Mrs Lewell-Buck’s performance first hand. The reference to garden burials was astonishing, and I speak as one who has advised quite extensively on private land burial over the years. An even more misguided dash down a blind alley was the reference to a loan shark debt incurred in connection with the purchase of a headstone.

    With regard to Royal London, I know that many of your readers, Charles, are sniffy about insurance companies, but it is a fact that AXA’s statistical research and commissioned reports has been invaluable to many from the illustrious academics at Bath to simple individual writers like me. I for one am pleased that Royal London are taking up this challenge (although for the benefit of completeness I should confess to an antique family connection with that company).

  6. Thursday 11th December 2014 at 12:16 pm

    It appears that to protect confidentiality, Emma Lewell-Buck is unable to reveal the names of people who have resorted to burying relatives in their back garden because they are skint.

    I feel she ought to hang her head in shame for stigmatising those who have chosen to bury in their own land for no other reason than simply having a desire to do so, irrespective of their worth. This extends to those that will do so in the future. She has wasted a valuable opportunity to flag up what the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) warned of time and time again… which is to better equip the bereaved with sound information. That cannot happen when local authorities are inadequate and continually produce misleading information about what the law says and doesn’t say. Public officials cannot make the law to mean whatever they want it to mean.

    I struggle with the term “DIY” as it makes a distinction. There cannot be a distinction as after all, every burial or cremation is in effect a do-it-yourself jobby, and those that assist for payment whether private or public, are indeed servants. I would like to think that many such servants have integrity but there will inevitably be some that have a very serious lack of it. I would lay money on it that Emma Lewell-Buck consulted with those that lack integrity and in some instances are ignorant of the law, before wasting a valuable opportunity to reflect on what the OFT warned of in its four reports about funerals.

    • Thursday 11th December 2014 at 12:49 pm

      Thanks for that, Teresa. Worth pointing out, perhaps, that a tweet by journalist Rob Merrick records that Ms Lewell-Buck now acknowledges that people bury on their own land not because they have to but because they want to — thereby exploding her own argument.

      It makes sense, because the number of poor people who own their own homes and gardens is probably… not all that high?

    • Ian Quance

      Wednesday 17th December 2014 at 8:57 am

      ” local authorities are inadequate and continually produce misleading information about what the law says and doesn’t say. Public officials cannot make the law to mean whatever they want it to mean.” – could expand on this Teresa? I’m really not sure what you mean by this or what supporting evidence you may have.

      Having worked in and around local authority bereavement services for nearly two decades I have only found dedicated individuals trying to do the best under difficult circumstances. Some may be more educated in the their role than others, but many are working to change this.

      • Thursday 18th December 2014 at 11:12 am

        Regrettably Ian I have a lot of evidence of LA’s producing misinformation. I don’t recall an occasion where I have requested changes to online information for the public benefit and my request has been met. I am often told that my comments have been noted and changes may be made when the website is updated. Any reasonable person could conclude that the newly bereaved, or those making arrangements for their own funerals, need sound information today…not weeks, months or years later. Take for example information produced about acquiring a grave in a public cemetery. No one is able to “purchase” a “grave”, but LA’s continually perpetrate this misconception. Only the exclusive rights of burial can be purchased for a specified amount of time not exceeding 100 years, though it is usual for LA’s to grant considerably less time than that. In some instances grants are as low as 30 years. Another example is the bad information produced about matters relating to garden burial. “Planning” consents are not needed for two or more burials in private land. When there is no prohibitive bylaw, no permission is required and no consultations are required with any public officials. The police do not have to be notified. A “licence” is not required to bury in private land for the simple reason there is no such thing in law. The law does not impose a duty on anyone of us to record the burial in the property deeds. Salford City Council is a prime example of a LA that produces bad and misleading information

        I hope you will agree that the public need sound information from the top down. There can be no excuse for the ignorance of leading members and front line staff working in bereavement or death registration services.

        It is common practice for registration services to advise the bereaved to hand a “green form” to a funeral director so a funeral can take place.

        The law does not impose a duty on anyone to use an undertaker to carry out
        a funeral. Indeed the law does not impose a duty on anyone to hold a funeral and some people choose to donate their bodies to science. In most circumstances, the green form is given to the “person procuring the disposal”. That person is usually the nearest relative. They are then legally required to give it to the “person affecting the disposal”. That person is whoever is responsible for the burial place or crematorium. It is stated very clearly on the back of a green form, a Coroners form 101 and form E that they “must” be given to the person responsible for the burial place or crematorium. That always applies, apart from one very unusual circumstance about English and Welsh churches. This means that either form must be given to the land owner or person responsible for cremation.

        I would argue that those that are not well versed on law related to bereavement and death registration services should not be employed in either sector until appropriately trained.

  7. Thursday 11th December 2014 at 9:55 am

    Hi Charles, it’s interesting that all these poor people own their own homes and gardens in order to bury. I’m interested where she gets her info from. Also what are the figures on back garden burials ?

  8. Jonathan Taylor

    Thursday 11th December 2014 at 8:51 am

    … AND, if that poor person seen digging a grave can’t see his enormous back garden’s obvious potential as a green burial thingy place, it just goes to show that not only are the poor unable to cook or get proper jobs, they can’t even think. They’ve no-one to blame but themselves!

  9. Jonathan Taylor

    Thursday 11th December 2014 at 8:11 am

    Well, with a bit of luck Emma will have scuppered her execrable bill, calling as it does on the government to mess around the edges of matters they don’t understand any more than she does, by making herself look so utterly ridiculous.

    Perhaps it’s time we who are working to actually reduce financial and other stress for real recently bereaved people abandoned the term ‘Funeral Poverty’ before it becomes just another buzz word. This problem has to be solved from the ground up, and without all the fanfare and distraction.

    • Charles

      Thursday 11th December 2014 at 10:44 am

      Ground up, eh? I don’t think the people who know best would like the sound of that, Jonathan, their voices would be lost in the throng. Very dirigiste, these do-gooders. If you want to know what you can do, wait to be told.

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