Paupers' funerals see huge increase in Blackpool
A pauper's funeral was held in Blackpool once every three days on average last year.
A huge surge in demand for the basic Victorian-style services, given to those who die alone or without relatives able to pay, has been recorded – and blamed on rising funeral costs.
Paul Maynard, the Tory MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, said: “The cost of funerals is becoming an increased burden for those families who unexpectedly find themselves bereaved and don’t have the money to pay for them.”
From 2010 to 2015, Blackpool Council buried or cremated an average of 33 people a year, but that rocketed to 62 last year, when the Victoria Hospital also spent £33,557 on cremation services for 48 patients who died there.
More paupers’ funerals were carried out in the North West than anywhere else in the country, followed by London. The Local Government Association described a national rise of 30 per cent in recent years as ‘tragic figures [that] speak for themselves’.
The average funeral now costs £3,675, the Money Advice Service said, while state help towards the cost of a coffin, hearse, funeral director, and flowers – paid to those in receipt of certain benefits – has been capped at £700 for a number of years, which a Commons committee last year said is not enough.
“Funeral payments for those who can prove they are entitled, and that is a very and uncertain onerous process, now fall far short of covering even a basic funeral,” chairman Frank Field said.
“We do not want a return to the spectre of miserable paupers’ funerals.”
The Government is currently reviewing its bereavement support services, and a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesman said an announcement is expected later this month ahead of changes in April. But the funeral payments are not part of the review and are not expected to increase, he added.
Mr Maynard said he would work with the DWP to ensure access to the grants, which are usually paid back through the deceased person’s estate, if they have one, are accessed as ‘promptly and fairly as possible’. He added: “Obviously these figures are concerning, but I would stress that I recognise the council carries out its duties with the utmost dignity and there’s no criticism.”
Figures released by the hospital under Freedom of Information laws show the Victoria Hospital used two local funeral directors in 2015/16, D Hollowell and Sons and Box Bros. The majority, booked through Box Bros, cost £764, and saw patients collected from the hospital, placed in a simple coffin, and transferred to a local crematorium.
Blackpool Council said it tries to reclaim the cost of funerals from the deceased’s estate, with officers from the bereavement team searching their property, or room in a care home, to find details of family, a will, their bank or building society details, or any other assets.
Any items of monetary value can be sold if necessary, to recover the costs, it added.
“If we make arrangements for a funeral, it will be simplistic and take place at 9am,” the council said on its website.
“The service will remain dignified and will be accompanied by appropriate music. Once the deceased has been cremated, the remains will be scattered in the rose garden at Carleton.”
It is no longer unusual for families to publicly appeal for donations online to help pay for funeral expenses. They include a young mum, who asked for help after her partner, and dad of her two ‘beautiful children’, died suddenly in his sleep on December 28.
“I can’t afford to pay for a funeral myself so it is falling on his other family members to try and come up with the funds,” she wrote on JustGiving.com, an online fundraising site. “I would really like to try and help them cover the costs.”
Last June, £400 was raised through JustGiving towards the funeral of a Blackpool man who died suddenly and in May, £1,500 was donated to a resort mum when a friend launched a JustGiving appeal after the sudden death of her teen son.