Her remarks came in a parliamentary debate on funeral poverty this Tuesday (13 October), where MPs from all sides of the House warned that people across Britain were increasingly unable to afford a decent funeral.
In her speech Emma urged the Minister, Justin Tomlinson MP, to make changes to the Funeral Payments system, warning that payments no longer did enough to help those on low incomes afford even a basic funeral. She added that as a result families across Britain were having to pay for funerals with credit card debt or even payday loans, with an average debt of more than £1,300.
Emma called on the Government to raise the £700 cap on so-called ‘other costs’ that can be covered by Funeral Payments, which has failed to keep up with inflation and so means the average payment covers barely a third of the cost of a funeral.
She also explained that the long wait for DWP to award Funeral Payments meant that people had to commit to costs before finding out whether they were entitled to support. In some cases this meant people committed to a more expensive funeral than they could afford, only to find out that they did not qualify for help. Emma explained that this meant the Funeral Payment system actually encouraged funeral debt, and urged DWP to introduce checks to help people find out as quickly as possible whether they were entitled to a Funeral Payment.
Emma has previously raised these issues in Parliament as part of the Funeral Services Bill she introduced in 2014. The Bill was not passed, but helped to start a national conversation about funeral poverty.
Speaking in the debate, Emma said:
“Losing a loved one, as most of us will sadly know, is one of the most difficult experiences we face in our lives. It shakes us and changes our world forever. In the middle of that personal turmoil, the last thing that people need is money worries. People will always feel a strong duty to do right by others when they depart, which makes it especially painful for those who are not able to provide what they see as a fitting service for their loved ones. That is why we need to have a really serious conversation about funeral affordability.”
You can read the full text of Emma’s speech on Wednesday by clicking here.
The Minister responding to the debate, Justin Tomlinson MP agreed that helping people understand whether they were eligible for Funeral Payments was “probably the most important point” and that the Government was looking at how to address this. Sadly he did not commit to raising the Funeral Payments cap, saying it could lead to price inflation.
He invited MPs to a roundtable discussion to agree on future action.
Speaking after the debate, Emma said:
“This was a very welcome debate, and I was pleased to see so many MPs from all parties taking an interest in this issue. Funeral affordability is going to become a bigger issue in years to come as the cost of a service keeps on rising, and it’s important that we get to grips with this issue now.