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RIP Britannia: Britons can’t afford to die

Published time: March 30, 2014 16:07
Edited time: June 27, 2014 08:31

Headstones stand in rows at Sale cemetery in Manchester, northern England (Reuters/Phil Noble)

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As people in Britain struggle with the high cost of everyday life and as austerity continues to bite, many people in the UK are struggling to afford what everyone has to pay for sooner or later, their own funeral.

The average price of a funeral in recession hit Britain is £7,622, more than 50 percent of what it cost three years ago. Britain is fast becoming one of the most expensive places to die in the world.

A study by the University of Bath published in January found that the average price of a funeral in the UK has risen by 80 percent over the past decade to almost £8,000; that’s double the price in the US at £4,200 and triple the cost of dying in France at £2,500.

The research from the University of Bath’s institute for Policy Research (IPR) found out that more than 100,000 people would struggle to afford their own funeral in 2014.

Jill Caruth, a pensioner, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2012 and was given months to live by doctors, so she started to plan her own funeral.

When she approached funeral directors she was forced to pay for things she didn’t want. She found that the minimum cost was £3,750 and when she asked how much less she would have to pay just to have a basic burial without a service and without anybody there, she was told that it wasn’t possible to reduce the fee, she explained to RT’s correspondent in the UK Polly Boiko.

Doctors have now given Jill the all clear from cancer, but she is determined to spread the word about how much money funeral directors are charging.

Kate Woodthorpe from the Center for Death and Society told RT that for ordinary people already struggling to make ends meet the cost of a funeral is no longer affordable.

“The cost of dying is around £7,500 this year and that includes the funeral, the discretionary costs, such as a car and estate administration and what we’re saying is those figures are going up above inflation every year. Twenty percent of people, one in five struggle to pay for it,” she said.

The research, which was funded by the insurer Sun Life Direct, found that local authorities have seen an increase in demand for so-called public health funerals. These are budget funerals, where people can’t afford to pay a high street undertaker for a loved one’s funeral.

A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions defended the government’s policy on helping people to pay for funeral costs.

“The funeral payment scheme continues to cover the necessary costs of burial or cremation in full, because we know that these costs may vary widely across the country.

“A significant contribution is also made towards the fee levied by funeral directors which is currently set at £700. Other costs are also met in full, for example the cost of any doctors' certificates and certain travel expenses. To put this into context, the average social fund funeral payment last year was £1,225,” the spokesman told the Guardian.

But the IPR report found that the scheme run by the Department of Work and Pensions to help people meet the costs of funerals was “insufficient, overly complex and outdated.”

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