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Councils Refuse To Hand Over Ashes To Families After ‘Pauper Funerals’

March 13, 2018

Councils are refusing to give poverty-stricken families their loved ones’ ashes in an apparent ploy to reduce demand for paupers’ funerals, it can be revealed.

An undercover investigation by The Sunday Times found that Glasgow city council has told some of its poorest residents they could not keep relatives’ ashes unless they paid for a private ceremony.

In a recorded conversation, an official told a woman posing as a representative of a dead man’s sister: “It’s us having to pay for it, so, as I say, she will not get his ashes back

Asked if the sister could scatter her brother’s ashes at a special location, our reporter was told: “I’m afraid not. No.”

The official stated the policy three times, explaining that families had no right to the ashes because the state was paying and they would be disposed of in the council-owned crematorium garden.

Some councils in London and elsewhere in Scotland are understood to impose similar restrictions. Glasgow city council later denied this was its policy, saying if staff had said ashes were withheld to discourage people from applying for a public funeral, this was an error “and we will discuss this with the team”.

Frank Field, the Labour MP who chairs the Commons work and pensions committee, said the findings were “shocking” and “would make most people sick to the pit of their stomach”.

“The idea that because you are poor you should have no tangible means through which to remember and pay your respects to a loved one is appalling.” He is to table urgent parliamentary questions to Esther McVey, the work and pensions secretary.

Councils in the UK spend £4m a year on nearly 4,000 burials or cremations for those with no next of kin or whose family are unable or unwilling to pay.

Known as public health funerals south of the border and as national assistance funerals in Scotland, they are compared to the paupers’ funerals of the Victorian era, with early-morning cremations and bodies deposited in communal graves.

Their use has risen in recent years in response to the growing cost of funerals and the declining value of government aid to the bereaved. The Department for Work and Pensions has capped “social fund” extra expenses for funerals at £700 since 2003. The scheme pays towards coffins, flowers and funeral directors’ fees, but eligibility rules are strict and those in work are often excluded. Since 2003 the average cost of a funeral has risen from £1,920 to £4,078.

Research by the Citizens Advice Bureau in Stirling shows that 82% of paupers’ funerals in Scotland involve families who are unable, or sometimes unwilling, to pay, up from 44% a decade ago.

The Green MP Caroline Lucas has branded ministers “cruel” for refusing to increase the grant and for making it difficult for families to claim money until after the funeral. This means they are forced to take out payday loans or go into credit card debt. Last year, credit card debt for funerals reached £200m.

Research by the insurer Royal London shows that although some councils spend generously on paupers’ funerals — Birmingham tops the list, paying out an average of £1,847 on 376 occasions in 2015-16 — others keep the annual cost to three figures. Tamworth borough council managed to spend just £200 on one funeral. Broxbourne, Warrington, Chorley, East Staffordshire, Eastleigh and South Lakeland also spent under £1,000.

If a council refuses a pauper’s funeral, the body is held in a mortuary until the family raises the money. If after weeks or months the council concludes the family is unable to pay, it then has a duty to arrange a burial or cremation.

Speaking to the woman assisting The Sunday Times, the officer from Glasgow city council bereavement services said the dead man’s sister could attend a funeral at the municipal crematorium “first thing in the morning” and stand for a minute’s silence.

The officer admitted that the service was not a “funeral per se”, adding: “Unfortunately there’s no minister, there’s no clergy and it’s very, very basic. The lady will not get his ashes back.

“Glasgow city council’s the applicant, so we’ll disperse the ashes in the garden of remembrance. The family will only get his ashes back if they can make the arrangements.”

Heather Kennedy, campaign manager for Quaker Social Action’s Fair Funerals, based in east London, said: “Councils often play on the shame and grief of their poorest residents to deny them the help they need, but [keeping ashes] is one of the worst tactics we’ve heard of. Funeral poverty is becoming a national scandal.”

Glasgow city council said it was legally responsible for “the remains of the deceased” and sometimes a number of people tried to claim the ashes “with no reliable or legal way of determining who should take precedence”.

“However, where this is clear, we can and do pass remains into the care of family members.” It added: “The council is currently creating a fund to support families struggling with funeral costs.”

It said the deceased were treated with “the utmost dignity and respect” and explained that provisions were made for appropriate religious and cultural traditions to be observed where the beliefs of the deceased were known.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 13, 2018 6:15 am

    Reblogged this on sdbast.

  2. Terminator permalink
    March 13, 2018 4:55 pm

    I can see McVile’s reply now A person who cannot afford the burial fees for a loved one can apply for a grant for a basic burial. Well F*ck you McVile people should not be denied the right to a loved ones remains.

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