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Funeral Poverty

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:40 pm on 11th September 2018.

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Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 3:40 pm, 11th September 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter, in today’s very important and very timely debate.

First of all, I pay tribute to Mrs Lewell-Buck, who has been a long-standing campaigner on, and is highly respected in, this incredibly important area. Honestly, I am new as a Minister and I must stress that despite the plea of my hon. Friend Mr Hayes that I should be allowed a power grab, this is an area of responsibility that is split across the Department for Work and Pensions, where I am a Minister; the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government; the Ministry of Justice; and the Department of Health and Social Care. So I am afraid that I personally cannot commit to all of the asks today.

Nevertheless, I will set out and make very clear—I do not have a pre-written speech; I have been listening very carefully to what has been said—some of the things that are being done, some of the things that are in train, where I think we can go further, and what we need to do as we work together on this incredibly important issue.

In her very measured speech, the hon. Member for South Shields made a number of key points, which were also made by many others, particularly on the lack of clarity in discussions around eligibility, the whole stress of the process and the actual value of support that is available.

My hon. Friend Sir David Amess, who has been another tireless campaigner in this area, also highlighted the stress involved in the process, particularly around the eligibility criteria, and then the potential gap between the support that is available and the costs for things that many people feel are required. He also expressed some concerns about the pre-plans and the scrutiny of the industry. Again, I will cover those issues later.

As for the hon. Members for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray), for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens), and for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), I am genuinely very interested in the changes that the Scottish Government will potentially make. I will look very carefully to see whether lessons can be learned there and again they made valuable points about funeral plans and scrutiny, which I will cover when I am further along in my speech. Also, the Scottish National party’s spokesman—the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts—highlighted the fact that we have worked together and we are in mutual agreement in many areas, and I hope that this issue will be one that we can continue to work on.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings for the question he put at Prime Minister’s questions last week; that was advance lobbying, even before we begin our lobbying in particular areas. He was right to highlight that expectations have changed; I spent much of the summer making visits, including to funeral directors, and that message very much came through. Actually, as part of some of our long-term solutions, that also presents an opportunity, because there has been a change in expectations and there is now much wider scope for people to pay their respects as they wish to. He was also absolutely right to highlight concerns to do with funerals and public health; again, I will come on to that point later.

I thank Jim Shannon for his very kind words. As ever, he contributed by giving a measured and sensible summary of the situation, which shows what a proactive campaigner he is here in Parliament in reflecting the views of his constituents. However, he made a mistake by saying that two things are certain in life—death and taxes. In fact, three things are certain: death; taxes; and his contributing to a debate. [Laughter.]