The government of Scotland is planning aggressive action to address what it calls “funeral poverty,” as more and more of its citizens are struggling to pay funeral costs, according to a BBC report. The action comes on the heels of steady increases in the cost of burial and cremation, which have risen an average of 8 percent and 11 percent respectively in Scotland over the past year. According to the consumer advocacy group Citizens Advice Scotland, the average cost of a simple burial in Scotland is now £1373 ($1774). A cremation costs about £670 ($865). And these prices don’t include the cost of a coffin or other payments to funeral directors, which can add another £2,000 to £4,000 to the bill.
These cost increases are particularly concerning given Scotland’s slow wage growth, which was the lowest in the UK in 2016. According to the Scottish government, the average income in the country is £22,918 or about $30,000 per year.
A 10-Point Plan
In announcing the decision, Equalities Secretary Angela Constance stated that the government is working with local authorities and the funeral industry to address several areas of concern. The proposed 10-point plan includes an array of services to address funeral poverty, including consumer education on funeral costs and consumer protections in relation to funeral plans. The government will also implement a Social Innovation Fund and a pilot program that offers citizens a fixed-price “funeral bond” to help save for their own funerals.
At the heart of the program, however, is a Funeral Assistance Benefit, which the government plans to begin offering by the summer of 2019. The details of how it will implement the benefit are not yet clear. However, according to Social Justice Secretary Alex Neil the new program “…will help bereaved people know if they will receive a funeral payment, and we believe it will create more certainty for funeral directors, allowing them to give appropriate advice and potentially eliminating the need to take a deposit from those who make a successful application.”
More People Seeking Assistance
According to Citizens Advice Scotland, the planned program is a response to a “massive increase” in the number of Scottish citizens who are asking for help meeting funeral expenses and a 24 percent increase in the number of “pauper’s burials” over the last several years. One study estimates that the cost of those burials to local municipalities is as much as £500,000 each year.
In addition to addressing funeral poverty, the proposed program will give the Scottish government more control over what funeral homes may charge for their services.
It’s unclear whether the government will also implement other recommendations from Citizens Advice Scotland, such as increasing social security payments so they cover the full cost of a funeral and offering bereavement support groups.