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Poorest families 'being barred from funerals of relatives' because they can't afford to pay for them

Council tells loved ones they are not allowed to attend or have ashes if they cannot pay for a service

Sunday 27 May 2018 17:35 BST
On 1 March 2018, ONS announced that there had been “noticeable falls in female life expectancy at birth in the 20 per cent most deprived populations in England”.
On 1 March 2018, ONS announced that there had been “noticeable falls in female life expectancy at birth in the 20 per cent most deprived populations in England”. (Alamy)

Some of the UK’s poorest people are being barred from attending the funerals of loved ones as part of council cost-cutting, it has been claimed.

Families who must reportedly rely on publicly-funded funerals are told they cannot be at the service.

An official at Bracknell Forest Council, in Berkshire, was recorded telling undercover reporters that relatives would not even be told when the burial or cremation was taking place, according to The Sunday Times

“There’s no attendees, no keeping of the ashes,” the official is reported to have said. “Nobody’s invited, you don’t have any say at all.”

The average funeral costs £4,078, pricing out increasing numbers of families.

Councils offer a public health funeral – the modern equivalent of a Victorian pauper’s funeral – for those who cannot afford. About 4,000 people are buried or cremated this way every year, costing local authorities an estimated £4 million.

The refusal to allow people to attend seems to be a way of keeping costs down and discouraging families from using the option except where financially unavoidable.

The new claims follow similar revelations in March when the same newspaper found children had been placed in mass graves.

Frank Fields, MP, chairman of the commons work and pensions select committee described the findings as “sickening”.

He told the newspaper: “Even Dickens’s Mr Gradgrind would have been hard pressed to justify such treatment. This would make red-faced even the worst of the Poor Law commissioners of the 19th century.”

Bracknell Forest is the first case of a council being exposed as barring relatives, although there is some suggestion the practice may be more widespread.

The official quoted is said to have advised the undercover reporter she should negotiate with the funeral director or apply for government aid – although the latter is only available after the service takes place.

Steve Loudoun, environment and public protection officer, said the council had a "fair and appropriate policy regarding Public Heath funerals."

He said: "We have provided for the needs of the bereaved for many years and are very sensitive to the issues that arise at such times. If there is evidence to suggest otherwise, we will investigate as a matter of urgency.

"If our policy needs to be corrected to make it clearer or to address any valid shortcoming we will do so.

"We have no desire to deny anyone, with a reasonable right, the opportunity to say farewell to a loved one... however Bracknell Forest Council does not fund a formal funeral service as standard."

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