Saturday, 7 December 2013

UK cuts see return of paupers' funerals

Figures released in response to a Freedom of Information request reveal what appears to be a tragic consequence of UK Government ‘austerity’ measures.

North Ayrshire Council has confirmed it has seen an increase in the number of local people dying without any income or assets.  The local authority also acknowledged there has been an increase in the number of people dying in poverty and where family or friends are unable or unwilling to contribute to the costs of a funeral.

In such circumstances the Council steps in to provide the deceased person with a burial.  In the long-ago days of the Victorian Workhouse, such burials were known as paupers’ funerals, but today they are administered by local authorities acting under legislation contained in the National Assistance Act and are called Public Health Funerals.

Responding to the Freedom of Information request in relation to the numbers of Public Health Funerals carried out in recent years, North Ayrshire Council explained that officers from the Environmental Health department arrange burials for people who die without funds or whose family or friends cannot afford to pay for a funeral.  The Council said, “We pay for undertaker: transportation to undertaker's, coffining, doctor's fee if appropriate, transportation to crematorium or cemetery, crematorium or cemetery fees.  We default to cremation unless there is an existing family lair in a cemetery; we don't pay for a new lair.”

In 2007/08, the year of the banking crisis that led to UK Government cuts and austerity measures, there were five Public Health Funerals in North Ayrshire, costing the local Council a total of £3,955.  However, by 2011/12, the last full year for which figures are available, the Council arranged 14 funerals for people who died without the means of paying for their own burial.  The cost of the 14 Public Health Funerals in 2011/12 was £12,556. 

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