Funeral Poverty — [Sir David Amess in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:18 pm on 13th October 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 5:18 pm, 13th October 2015

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and to appear opposite the Minister. We have crossed swords before, and I look forward to doing so again. I commend Paul Maynard on raising such an important issue: the chance to hold a dignified funeral in our society. I also commend the speakers who have contributed to this debate, particularly my hon. Friend Mrs Lewell-Buck, who introduced a ten-minute rule Bill in the last Parliament and has campaigned tenaciously on the issue. I thank Mark Pawsey for his contribution, particularly for the way in which he spoke about debt; Jim Shannon for his words on funeral poverty; Robert Jenrick; and the hon. Members for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Philip Boswell) and for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), all of whom contributed significantly to the quality of this debate.

It was that famous Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, who said:

“After the first death, there is no other.”

It illustrates that people always react to death very differently. Each funeral is different and unique, a point made powerfully by my hon. Friend Stella Creasy in her earlier intervention.

None the less, funerals serve common purposes. They are not only a celebration of a life lived; they offer symbolism, the public expression of farewell and the marking of loss. That is why it is absolutely right that support is available to bereaved families to provide dignified funerals and why the rise in funeral costs, described very well by my hon. Friend Catherine West in her intervention, is so worrying.

I impress on the Minister today the need for a strategic approach. My hon. Friend Yvonne Fovargue made that point in her contribution. Central to that is the availability of information to inform a strategic approach. In a parliamentary answer on 29 June, the Minister stated that, of the 52,500 applications to the social fund for funeral payments, only 32,000 were approved. An explanation of why nearly 20,000 were rejected would be useful. It would also be useful if the Department for Work and Pensions published other specific data. What, for example, is the total number of people who cannot afford a low-cost funeral? What is the average cost of a funeral? How many bereaved families fall into debt? I could go further and say that it would be useful if the Minister committed today to seeking and consulting on a definition of funeral poverty that could be used in future.

The hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys spoke powerfully about budgeting loan applications in his contribution. Budgeting loans have been available since May 2012. An indication of the likely award would be useful, because ex post facto awards create an extra complication for the family at a time of bereavement. It would be useful, when looking at this policy area, if the Government distinguished between maternity and funeral expense applications in the statistics.

Those elements taken together would provide a more strategic approach. I urge the Minister today to turn his attention to this issue and focus on it. It is difficult to think of a more noble cause than providing people with a dignified funeral, regardless of their income.