A BBC survey this week has talked about the rise in costs of “pauper’s funerals”. There is a huge sense of frustration within the funeral profession when we hear this term. Whilst it is perhaps technically correct – denoting a person without any financial means to pay for a funeral – as a word it has negative connotations and the NAFD feels it is disrespectful to the person who has died.
To a funeral director, a person who has a public health funeral (the correct term) deserves and is always treated with the same dignity and respect as anyone else, no matter who is covering the costs of the funeral and how simple the arrangements might be.
Evidence from the Local Government Association’s most recent survey (2011) and more recent statistics from individual local authorities show that the number of public health funerals is reasonably consistent, year on year, representing a fraction of the 500,000 funerals held each year in the UK at around half a percent.
In terms of the rising costs, public health funerals are delivered by funeral directors under local authority contracts operating to agreed fees. They are simple and respectful services. The biggest influence on the rising cost is often the local authority’s own charges for burials and cremations, which are rising much faster than inflation and which the council cannot recover.
One of the saddest aspects of public health funerals is that the individual who has died is often not only without money, but without mourners too. Quite often NAFD members will actively seek to find individuals to come and pay last respects – perhaps those who have in some way cared for or come into contact with the person during the last years of their lives.
Funeral firms have gone as far as advertising in the media for mourners, perhaps if the person has military honours a representative from their service might be asked to attend and this has often led to strangers travelling from far and wide to honour the deceased. However, in the absence of any mourners attending a funeral, many funeral directors will pay respects to the deceased person themselves often accompanied by a representative of the local authority that has arranged the funeral.