Funeral Poverty — [Sir David Amess in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:07 pm on 13th October 2015.

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Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark 5:07 pm, 13th October 2015

I will be brief, given the impending time limit. I support this debate, and I thank my hon. Friend Paul Maynard for putting across the arguments so thoughtfully. I also thank Mrs Lewell-Buck for raising this issue in the national consciousness in the way it deserves.

I will make a couple of brief points. The first is obvious, but it deserves to be said again that we have a cultural problem in this country, even more so than in many other countries, because we do not talk about death and, as a result, do not plan for it. That is part of the reason for the problems that we all get into. Death is a certainty, yet we do not talk about it and too few of us plan for it, even those who have the income to do so if they only thought about it at an earlier time.

As we have heard, it is possible to plan ahead and take a fixed-cost, pre-need funeral plan. I have also had constituents whose funeral director had gone out of business and, as we have just heard, their family only discovered it at the point of death, which is an awful tragedy. I have had two constituents in that position. Such schemes are important and should be promoted by the Government and by funeral directors because, in their defence, they fix the cost at the point at which the scheme is taken out. As we have heard, the cost of a funeral has risen so much in recent years that, in all likelihood, a funeral will be significantly cheaper if a scheme is taken out several years in advance.

Lastly—I know that we need to move on—we must, without bashing funeral directors, make the point that the cost of a funeral has risen enormously in recent years, by seven times the rate of inflation. That is too much. Many funeral directors have quite high margins; some basic products, such as coffins, can be provided for as little as £60 or £100. I do not want people to be pushed into undignified funerals, but funeral directors could do more to reduce the cost of funerals and enable members of the public to have dignified funerals at a sensible price.

Members might not be aware that there is a growing trend in this country of DIY funerals. That has both good and bad sides, but we need to be aware of it, because hundreds of thousands are happening now: members of the public do a lot of the work themselves rather than going through funeral directors. They take control of the paperwork, arrange and even conduct the service and make transport arrangements. That is a difficult process, but we need to be aware of it. If we do not sort out the problem, we will see far more DIY funerals in years to come.