Give others a chance to help pay for child funerals

Charles 10 Comments



What an interesting debate that was, the one about whether undertakers and celebrants should charge for the funerals of children. A great many people followed it silently; the 25 comments represent a tiny fraction of the overall readership.

The debate was not conducted on a level of dispassionate logic, so neither side prevailed, but the heart-over-head faction had the greatest numerical support.

Lucy defined a rationale for charging: “I understand completely why other funeral directors on here wouldn’t charge, but if we applied the same emotional response to every family who walked through the door, we wouldn’t be in business for very long … people die in exceptionally tragic circumstances every day … why don’t they get a free funeral?” 

Gloria Mundi defined the heart-over-head position: “We can’t charge according to some personal tragedy-meter. Rationally, I can see no reason for not charging, but ‘the heart also has its reasons.’”

X Piry agreed: “On a logical level, I know that charging is the right thing to do, but it just doesn’t sit right with me.”

Any cool-headed rationalist will be driven potty by all this. If the parents of children who have died are worthy of financial help then, by the same measure, so too, surely, are those adults who, in Wendy Coulton’s words, “have become full time devoted carers of a relative who has been in their life for over 50 years. They are often living on the breadline because they gave up work to look after their loved one. Their loss is profound, not only for the person who has died but their own identity and sense of purpose. They have no concessions on funeral costs.

Why not? Because they don’t tug at the heartstrings in the same way, obviously. And what this inconsistency illustrates is that, while some causes are more glamorous than others, the less glamorous are no less deserving. This accounts for why, for example, Help for Heroes has raised a sum approaching £200 million for wounded servicemen, but charities who work with the disproportionate number of ex-servicemen who are in prison or sleeping rough struggle to raise anything at all. Research into breast cancer fundraises more effectively than prostate cancer. This is mostly down to relative anatomical attractiveness.

For all their robustness, rational arguments don’t win converts. It’s the way of the world. But let’s at least not kid ourselves: funeral poverty in the wider population is a cause of equal value.

Where we can probably agree is that what all parents of children who have died value more than anything else are the abstract qualities of compassion, kindness and support.

The same as for all bereaved people.

We can agree that these are not qualities most articulately or effectively expressed by knocking a bit off a bill. Yes?

But what some (not all) parents of children who have died also value is ‘concrete’ help with paying the bill.

As do lots of other bereaved people.

In the matter of children’s funerals there are almost certainly lots of people unconnected with the funerals business who would like to help.

The new Child Funeral Charity enables them to do this. Undertakers and celebrants can give them a chance to chip in by publicising it and sharing the load.

Anne Barber, trustee of the CFC, writes:

The charity will be giving financial help to families who cannot afford to pay for their child or baby’s funeral, referred to us by professionals who work with them, (probably including most of the readers of this blog!). The payments will start from October 1st. Not only payments, but access to suppliers who are prepared to help by giving their products and services at cost or free. We are working hard to fundraise and are optimistic that the families who we can help will be the ones who really do need the help.

We know that the Social Fund is meant to help those on benefits to pay for funerals but as yet they have declined to tell us how many funerals for those under 16 they actually pay anything towards. Not many, we suspect, we will persevere until we get some statistics. But let’s not re-open the Social Fund debate.

The families we believe we will help the most are those who might be in work but are young and on low incomes, some even teenagers themselves, with absolutely no savings or hope of paying for a funeral. Often family, especially grandparents step in, but often they can’t.

The costs they might have to pay, as so rightly already pointed out here, vary enormously and they won’t know that if they went to a different funeral director or a different crematorium it could be less. Some funeral directors we have spoken to do far more than give their professional services, they actually pay ALL the fees for the family, so families do not spend one penny.

Overall we have been overwhelmed by the support that is out there and that we have been encountered already. Health professionals have contacted us keen to use the service and we have had calls from those rejected by the Social Fund as they aren’t on the ‘right type’ of benefits.

Our challenge is to make sure that we help in cases of real need. We will do our very best.


  1. Charles

    It really was a thought provoking topic and it is one I have been thinking about seriously.
    I absolutely stand by my comment that people die in terrible circumstances every day and they wouldn’t get a free funeral.
    Over the next few weeks, I will be adding a section to my website about children’s funerals and the associated costs. If they want a free funeral, then I am sure there are other funeral directors in my area that will oblige, but I simply must make some charge to cover the time I have spent working on their behalf.

    I completely appreciate that not everyone can afford to pay for their child’s funeral. This is where the Child Funeral Charity is going to be a fantastic resource for some families.
    I was surprised to learn that there wasn’t something like this already out there, but I am so glad there is.
    It is absolutely my intention to also support them financially so that it could benefit someone who really needs the help.
    Amazing charity and amazing people who founded it. I really wish them all the very best in their fund raising efforts.

  2. Charles

    I completely agree Lucy. Perhaps funeral directors and celebrants who prefer not to charge for children’s funerals could suggest that parents donate to this charity. I meet a significant number of bereaved parents who are not looking for a free funeral and indeed some feel quite awkward not paying anything.

  3. Charles

    Welcome news. The free child funeral is probably disappearing fast in many parts of Britain and with one in four children living in poverty, the need must be great?

    Lucy – I genuinely respect your right to do as you must on this most difficult subject, but seriously, what impression do you think that statement creates with a potential client family?

    I believe in time past, the local funeral director didn’t charge for a premature death because he knew that his kindness and compassion would be rewarded by the family over many decades. Marketing perhaps, although I’m not sure they really thought like that in the fifties, sixties and seventies?

    One of the first casualties of the corporate funeral director was compassion. Head Office cannot possibly know the circumstances of every (or any) death, they are but numbers on a screen. For we small FD’s, every job is personal. We get to know the people, their story and the precise circumstances. I may be a fool, but have certainly helped widows whose husbands – struggling with debt – have committed suicide. To not have done so would have been wrong on a human level. I may be a little overdrawn, but I sleep soundly.

    1. Charles

      I’m not sure what statement you are referring to, but I don’t think it is unreasonable to charge for a service that has been provided.
      Again, I have had parents seek me out because they wanted to pay for their child’s funeral.

      On my website, I specifically state that no matter what someone’s budget, I can always help. It may mean that with the budget they have it would only cover the disbursements so to avoid them getting into debt, I explain how they could do it all themselves. I have actually done this within the last year.

      People die in tragic circumstances every day but because they are older, they don’t get the same free services as an adult. It is a double standard.

      While any good funeral director will often put hours of work making sure each and every funeral is absolutely perfect, I am sure we can all agree that when it is a funeral for a child, you work just that bit harder.
      Therefore, why wouldn’t I ask for a contribution towards my time?

      If a parent genuinely couldn’t afford it and the CFC couldn’t help at the time, then of course I would look to see what I could do, but this would be the exception rather than the rule.

      I am not a cold, hard business woman….far from it. I just don’t understand why I should give my services completely free of charge to the family because their child has died and then do on to charge another family who’s fifty year old mother committed suicide. Both are absolutely tragic but I don’t believe in double standards and picking and choosing who are deemed more worthy of free services.

  4. Charles

    The statement was; ‘If they want a free funeral I am sure there are other funeral directors in my area who will oblige.’

    It just doesn’t sound very friendly or compassionate to my delicate eyes, and I could not imagine myself ever saying anything like it regardless of a family’s ability to pay.

    1. Charles

      David, I think that is the problem with the internet….there in no intonation. I am sorry you thought the statement wasn’t friendly or compassionate enough, but I was just stating a fact. There will be a funeral director who would oblige in my town if someone didn’t want to pay for my services.
      However, I do stand by what I say. I am sure I am not the only funeral director who charges for their services when arranging and conducting a child’s funeral, just like there are many that don’t.
      This may be an “agree to disagree” subject and everyone has a different opinion….and that is fantastic. It means everyone, not just parents of children who have passed away, get a real choice on who they would want to look after their loved one.

    2. Charles

      Let’s not get distracted into a family’s ability to pay here; the matter we’re discussing is a funeral director’s or other’s willingness to charge. Some have it, some don’t, but nobody’s doing anyone any financial favours except inadvertently. This is an emotional issue, not a practical one, so can we keep it on that plane?

      1. Charles

        Pardon, Lucy, that was meant to be a reply to David, not you.

        Charles, I long for the day when your blog designer gets things back into a logical order!!

  5. Charles

    Back in 1963 When My Great Uncle and Auntie Little Boy Sadly drowned aged 2 and half they had to pay. Obviously things were different back then.

  6. Charles

    An interesting gender divide has become apparent. Women mostly favour charging, men don’t. Whether that is reflected more widely we don’t know, but most people would reckon the outcome here to be counterintuitive.

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