Church welcomes action plan to tackle funeral poverty

The Church of Scotland has welcomed the Scottish Government’s announcement of a 10-point plan to tackle funeral poverty.

Funeral Poverty

The plan will create a funeral expense assistance benefit and a social innovation fund to help people in poverty cover funeral expenses, as well as creating opportunities for people to save for their funerals, according to the announcement from Angela Constance, the Scottish Government’s Equalities Secretary.

Unacceptable

Rev Dr Martin Johnstone, Secretary of the Church of Scotland’s Church & Society Council, said:

“The Church of Scotland warmly welcomes the 10-point plan set out by the Scottish Government.

“Over recent years we have consistently spoken out against the growing scandal of funeral poverty. Every week, ministers in all parts of Scotland spend time with families who are not only grieving the death of a person that they love but are also worried about how they will pay the funeral costs.

“It is unacceptable that families are being forced in to debt by the rising cost of funerals – a cost for which many local authorities and funeral directors must take responsibility.

“We renew our call to the Scottish and Westminster Governments to ensure that the funding available allows those experiencing funeral poverty to receive support at a level sufficient to make a real difference.

“We invite the Scottish government to make a determined effort to ensure that the postcode lottery of burial and cremation charges ends and that charges are set at a level that enables a service to be provided without crippling those experiencing poverty at a most difficult time in their life.

“We welcome the steps which the Scottish Government have announced today and will continue to work with them to end funeral poverty.”

10-point action plan

The announcement gave details of 10 actions to be taken:

  • Launch a new Funeral Expense Assistance benefit, by summer 2019
  • Publish guidance on funeral costs, by December 2018
  • Improve advice on funeral planning, help following a bereavement and support after a funeral
  • Publish funeral planning guidance to help people think about and record plans for their funeral
  • Strengthen consumer protection in relation to funeral plans
  • Support discussion of bereavement, death, dying and care at the end of life
  • Highlight products from credit unions, including those specifically for funerals
  • Deliver a Social Innovation Fund to help tackle disadvantage such as funeral poverty
  • Give people more options to save for their funeral, through a funeral bond pilot
  • Improve the evidence base to assess the effectiveness of our actions

Funeral benefit

Ms Constance said:

“The death of a loved one is an incredibly difficult time for anyone. It can be even harder when money is tight. We know funeral costs can push people into poverty – and often it is those already in financial hardship who face increased difficulties.

“That is why we are taking decisive action to tackle this growing issue and have engaged with local authorities, the funeral sector and other support services. I am pleased by the willingness to work together to find solutions that support more affordable funerals.

“The Scottish Government is committed to supporting those who need it most following a bereavement, which is why we will introduce a new Funeral Expense Assistance from summer 2019.”

Rev Bryan Kerr,minister of Greyfriars Church in Lanark, has been working to help bring about policy changes as the Church of Scotland's representative on the Scottish Working Group on Funeral Poverty, the Funeral Poverty Alliance and the Scottish Government Working Group on Funeral Poverty and Social Security Funeral Payment.

View the working group's guide to planning your own funeral (pdf file)