Benefits for bereaved people could undergo a serious reform on the recommendation of MPs to The Work and Pensions Select Committee.
Research shows that funeral poverty increased by over 50 percent between 2010 and 2013. The Work and Pensions Select Committee launched an inquiry into bereavement benefits following growing public concern around bereaved people not being able to afford a dignified funeral when someone close to them dies.
Average awards for the Social Fund Funeral Payment (SFFP), the main benefit available to bereaved people on low incomes where there are no other resources available, now only cover around 37 percent of the price of an average funeral.
The Select Committee report states: “The original [SFFP] made provision for a simple funeral service for those otherwise unable to afford one. The freezing of the £700 cap for the last 13 years has devalued the SFFP to the point where it does not cover a simple funeral… The value of [the SFFP] and their failure to cover the cost of a basic funeral is undoubtedly a problem for claimants.”
Heather Kennedy, campaigns manager from Quaker Social Action’s Fair Funerals campaign says: “We welcome today’s report which is the first time politicians have got together and tried to understand the reasons why so many people can’t afford a decent send off for someone they love.
“We strongly echo the Committee’s call for the Social Fund Funeral Payment to be increased in line with the price of a basic funeral. It isn’t right that this fund has been allowed to decrease in value to the point where it now covers on average 37 percentof the price of a funeral.”
James, who was supported by Quaker Social Action’s Down to Earth project said:
“After my wife lost her long battle with cancer I had no idea how I was going to raise the money for her funeral. I had been left with four school age children and because I’d been my wife’s main carer and had to give up work, our savings were almost all gone.
“The government had turned me down for a Social Fund Funeral Payment but Down to Earth advisers helped me appeal and eventually after six months I was awarded £1,650 to help clear my debt. I’ve still got quite a bit to pay off, which I’m doing through a payment plan of £12.50 a week. Having this debt hanging over me is a painful reminder of my wife’s death.”