Funeral Poverty — [Sir David Amess in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:04 pm on 13th October 2015.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality) 5:04 pm, 13th October 2015

I will take two and a half minutes. I thank Paul Maynard for securing this debate. I am conscious that, at a time when people have been forced to tighten their purse strings, funeral poverty has risen sharply. Unfortunately, as with other things, wages have not increased enough, which means that the poorest in society are often faced with the very real prospect of not being able to afford to bury their loved ones.

A gentleman came to my constituency office last week regarding a funeral grant. He had lost his brother a few months previously, and the brothers who were left had borrowed money from here and there to pay the funeral costs. They applied for a funeral grant and were turned down despite three of them being in receipt of benefits. The brother who paid the majority of the costs was in employment, and for that reason, despite the fact that one brother was on the minimum wage and borrowed money to pay the costs, the brothers were ineligible for the grant. That is a common problem, and it becomes worse for staff on casual or zero-hours contracts. Such people cannot receive the financial assistance they need because they are classed as working, regardless of whether or not their income is regular.

Is it not time to have a means test for those who apply for a funeral grant? The gentleman who came to my constituency office was left with a burden. He is on the minimum wage, which means that he was not able to take the full cost himself. Prices have risen by 3.9% in the last year alone, which is £140 in real money. One in 10 people struggle to pay for a funeral, to the tune of £1,318. Over the past five years, the price of cremations has gone up by almost a third from £470 to £640. I welcome the work of the charities and organisations, but will the Minister indicate what help we can give? Will the rules be changed to include a means test? We need to help the most vulnerable in our society, and we need to ensure that people on zero-hours contracts, casual contracts or the minimum wage can get some financial assistance.

I commend Mrs Lewell-Buck on her hard work. I am impressed by her contribution, and I look forward to the contribution of Philip Boswell on behalf of the Scottish National party because the Scottish Parliament has shown us the best way forward.