Fresh call for action over funeral poverty

RevBryanKerr
Rev Bryan Kerr.

The Scottish Government is under fresh pressure to tackle the scourge of funeral poverty.

Campaigner Rev Bryan Kerr has urged ministers to use new social security powers being devolved to the Scottish Parliament to design a system that ensures the poorest families have “swift” access to sufficient funds.

The minister of Greyfriars Church in Lanark, said: “In this day and age, no one should be plunged into debt, or use pay day loan companies with high interest rates, in order to bury a loved one.”

Mr Kerr, the Kirk’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, said the denomination wanted local authorities to ensure that charges for burials and cremations are “fair and not excessively high”.

He spoke out ahead of a debate in the House of Commons tomorrow that is being led by Belfast East MP Gavin Robison calling for action on social fund funeral payments.

The politician will highlight the enormous hardship caused to bereaved families and urge the UK Government to update The House on a plan of action.

Swift response

Mr Kerr, who has a meeting with Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities Angela Constance on Thursday, said: “The Kirk is seeking to ensure that all people in Scotland have access to funds to pay for the funeral of a loved one.

“The Department of Work and Pensions who administer the Social Fund Funeral Payment have a cumbersome mechanism for checking eligibility at a time of great difficulty within a family situation.

“The Church is working with, and calling on, the Scottish Government to ensure that, when the funeral payment is devolved as part of the Social Security powers, that the system for checking eligibility is swift to ensure that those who apply have the knowledge that some funds will be made available to them to help with the cost of a funeral.”

The Church of Scotland is a member of the Funeral Poverty Alliance which has developed the Fair Funeral Scheme which calls on Funeral Directors to sign a pledge and commit to recognise that funerals can be expensive and many people struggle with the cost.

Burden

Campaigners want to help people to find funerals that are within their financial means and would like funeral directors to be open about their most affordable options, including third party costs conversations, price lists and websites.

The Church of Scotland reaffirmed at the General Assembly of 2016 its unique position that no parish minister should charge a fee for conducting a funeral.

Mr Kerr said: “Everyone working in the funeral industry, from celebrants to funeral directors and local authorities, must continue to recognise the burden that organising the funeral of a loved one can place on some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society.

“We must continue to work together to ensure better access to funding for those who need it most.”