Campaign targets 'dismal' funerals

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The Independent Online
NICHOLAS TIMMINS

Public Policy Editor

"A Dead Citizen's Charter" aimed at transforming funerals from an often short, distressing and impersonal experience into an occasion that honours the dead and lets friends and relatives mourn properly, is to be launched today.

It will be accompanied by calls to halt the privatisation of crematoria and prevent the development of big, dominant groups of funeral directors, which the National Funerals College, the author of the charter, says threatens to leave people with even less choice. "The average British funeral is a miserable and disappointing affair," Malcolm Johnson, the college's chairman, said.

"For those who are not well- known figures or members of churches - most of us - the contemporary funeral lacks meaningful symbolism, dignity, adequate time and comfort for those who mourn."

Mourners are "herded into and through chapels on a production-line schedule". This "dismal experience" is likely to cost more than pounds 1,000.

Lack of information and choice and the domination of the funeral market by big firms means that families are forced into making decisions they often regret, the college said, publishing its charter for consultation. Many are not able to resist "the pressures of aggressive entrepreneurs".

Lord Young of Dartington, who founded the Consumers' Association and created the National Funerals College, said the funeral industry had seen a transformation more radical than at any time in its history.

The Co-op alone conducts 25 per cent of funerals and the United States- based Service Corporation International (SCI) has taken over a growing number of funeral directors who trade under their old name but give SCI 15 per cent of the market.

"Local authorities, which own nine-tenths of crematoria, have a vested interest in rushing people through in the short time allowed, in order to keep to their budgets," Lord Young said. At the same time, the Department of Environment was encouraging the sale of crematoria to private business, almost inevitably funeral directors.

The charter seeks to establish 24 rights for the deceased and advocates appointing a Funeral Guardian to take charge of all arrangements. Prices should be clear and the ownership of funeral directors declared in advertisements and on the premises. There should be choice over whether the body lies at home, at church or in a funeral parlour.

Clergy should receive more training to conduct funerals whether or not the deceased attended church. Different faiths should be respected. and the limited choice between burial and cremation restored by re-opening old cemeteries andchurchyards for burial.

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