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I congratulate Mrs Lewell-Buck on securing the debate. She has spoken on this matter before. Indeed, I think that everyone who has spoken today has spoken on this before. It continues to be a bugbear for us all, which is why we are here to make our contributions. I thank all those who have spoken in the debate, including the hon. Lady who introduced it, for their valuable comments.
This is a sensitive issue. I can remember dealing with such issues when I was a local councillor, so I have some knowledge of how the system back home seeks to address it. I want to tell a story that clearly illustrates the issues. In my home, a pauper’s funeral happens more than I like to think, unfortunately. The very name “pauper’s funeral,” as Mr Hayes indicated, encapsulates what happens.
A lady that my staff and I had sought to help had no family—we were not aware of any relatives, to be truthful. As an elected representative, I and my staff had a relationship with her though our office. We heard that she had passed away and the girls in the office rang the council to find out the funeral arrangements, because they wanted to pay their respects. They wanted to make sure she was not buried alone, because they were aware that she had no immediate family. They were not aware of all the circumstances until she died. They were sensitively told by the council that as no one had claimed the body, the funeral would take a number of weeks to arrange. In Northern Ireland we have a tradition of people being buried three days after they die. A week is an awfully long time to wait. I know that here on the mainland it can sometimes take even longer, never mind a few weeks.
The girls were taken aback when they were told that there would be no funeral service. They could not understand why that should be the case. The remains would be taken from the undertakers in the cheapest coffin and laid to rest in the council-allocated paupers’ grave section, where there would be no funeral service as such. That was probably our first introduction to what it really meant to have a pauper’s funeral, although in my capacity as a councillor I was aware of it happening once or twice before.
Whenever someone passes away, a catalogue is drawn up of all the items in their house, if they have a house, or the car or whatever it may be. Unfortunately, in the cases that I have been aware of, there has been nothing of value in the house. Everything was taken out and disposed of.