Sharp rise in Pauper’s funerals

Charles 13 Comments

Posted by Vale

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Oliver Twist is in a workhouse somewhere asking for more. It seems extraordinary in 2012 that there are headlines like this in the Daily Telegraph this week, followed by the stark (and slightly ludicrous) quote from Kate Woodthorpe of the University of Bath that it is:

“becoming too expensive for poor people to die”.

The article is based on a joint report between the university and Sun Life Direct and notes that the number of applications rejected for a funeral payment increased by 6.9% and is likely to jump again in the future. Put bluntly funerals are becoming unaffordable for more and more people.

There are issues with the report of course. Sun Life’s interest in shepherding people towards its end of life plans is one. It also includes a great deal of information that deserves more detailed consideration. For the moment though our concern here at GFG has a narrower focus. Let’s go back to the news that, in an age where benefits claimants are routinely stigmatised and welfare support is harder to access, state support for the costs of funerals is shrinking; that the funeral as it is designed, sold and delivered is becoming too expensive for too many; that we are pauperisng people.

As a service (that likes to puff its chest out and call itself an industry) does this news make you feel good about the drive to upsell? Are you comfortable with a lack of transparency about pricing? Do the packages you offer, the lack of flexibility, the way that basic or simple is designed to look mean and cheap fill you with pride?

Are you filled with a drive to change, to build new and more responsive businesses where trustworthy services and products are offered in a culture of respect and openness?

Or do you dust off the top hat and smile to yourselves at the prospect of this new Victorian age?


  1. Charles

    The lack of transparency on cost, the unwillingness of some Fd’s to quote for a “cheap” funeral is really annoying, cheap cetainly does not have to mean nasty.
    A recent experience of ours involved a certain branch of the news making funeral people trying to charge huge amounts for a plain pine coffin and then trying to stop the relatives from obtaining their own very much cheaper pine coffin, needless to say they did allow it in the end (after a few phone calls)but it should never of happened.

  2. Charles

    Punch magazine, in the mid-19th century, mocked the funeral trade by observing there are different qualities of grief according to the price you pay:
    “For £2 10s., the regard is very small. For £5, the sighs are deep and audible. For £7 10s. the woe is profound, only properly controlled; but for £10, the despair bursts through all restraint, and the mourners water the ground, no doubt, with their tears”.
    Over 150 years later, Dispatches…

  3. Charles

    Much matter here, Vale, and, as you say, much that deserves detailed consideration. Unusual to receive a philippic from you – a testament to the strong feelings that this arouses.

    You talk of ‘Sun Life’s interest in shepherding people towards its end of life plans.’ I’d be inclined to substitute, for ‘shepherding’, ‘herding terrified’, especially with the resurrection of the term ‘pauper’s funeral’. Today’s public health funeral has nothing in common with the pauper’s funeral of yesteryear. And today’s financial products of all sorts have been utterly discredited by the activities of those who devise them.

    I emailed Kate Woodthorpe at the Univ Bath a couple of days ago and asked her how the university would respond to misgivings around its relationship with Sun Life. She is back in the office on the 23rd, and we’ll post what she says as soon as she responds.

    I really think you put your finger on it, Martin, when you say that cheap does not have to mean nasty.

  4. Charles

    Thinking about the effects of language, inexpensive is a much better word for an fd to use than cheap. Perhaps that’s why some of them still use the word cheap. Although, even basic funerals are not cheap.

  5. Charles

    Vale and Charles, if you like that, you might like…

    Charles Manby Smith, writing in Curiosities of London Life (1853) had little to say that was favourable to the industries that provided for funerals:

    “Here, when you enter his gloomy penetralia, and invoke his services, the sable-clad and cadaverous-featured shopman asks you, in a sepulchral voice—we are not writing romance, but simple fact—whether you are to be suited for inextinguishable sorrow, or for mere passing grief; and if you are at all in doubt upon the subject, he can solve the problem for you, if you lend him your confidence for the occasion. . . .Messrs. Moan and Groan know well enough, that when the heart is burdened with sorrow, considerations of economy are likely to be banished from the mind as out of place, and disrespectful to the memory of the departed; and, therefore, they do not affront their sorrowing patrons with the sublunary details of pounds, shillings, and pence. … For such benefactors to womankind—the dears—of course no reward can be too great; and, therefore, Messrs. Moan and Groan, strong in their modest sense of merit, make no parade of prices. They offer you all that in circumstances of mourning you can possibly want; they scorn to do you the disgrace of imagining that you would drive a bargain on the very brink of the grave; and you are of course obliged to them for the delicacy of their reserve on so commonplace a subject, and you pay their bill in decorous disregard of the amount. It is true, that certain envious rivals have compared them to birds of prey, scenting mortality from afar, and hovering like vultures on the trail of death, in order to profit by his dart; but such ‘caparisons’, as Mrs. Malaprop says, ‘are odorous,’ and we will have nothing to do with them”.

  6. Charles

    Unsurprising. Despite my lowest price offer being £950 – some families still can’t afford it, let alone the Doctor’s, Minister’s and crematorium fee.

    If someone is really genuinely broke – the DWP are pretty hopeless and slow -what else can they do but refuse to be responsible for arranging a funeral?

    Crematorium fees have to be paid – sometimes in advance or soon after the cremation takes place. Doctor’s and Minister’s always want immediate payment. Funeral Directors are in a difficult position even when we bend over backwards to assist. What a shame if we all go the way of funeralcare and start credit checking the arranger in advance of any service being provided at all.

  7. Charles

    That is news to me, I wasn’t aware that Funeralcare credit checked all prospective clients, are you sure?

    Certainly our co-operative does not credit check families.

    Having said that if you were going to take out finance for a purchase of services totalling between £1,000 to £3,000 wouldn’t you expect to be credit checked. It is how it is carried out and explained that is perhaps more relevant?

    Even after receiving the results of a credit check it would also be how you use the data because it is only one indication of ability to settle the account to be measured with discussions with the family and other indicators?

  8. Charles

    I am reliably informed by a good friend who works at a local funeralcare branch that yes, all clients are subject to the tappety tap of the desk bound PC on first meeting. Fail the online credit check and you are asked to pay for your funeral – up front.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>