I was at a conference today on funeral poverty, part of the Scottish Government’s agenda for #fairerscotland. The current system of support is very limited, and horrendously complicated. There are five elements in a claim: the circumstances and resources of a claimant, the circumstances and resources of the deceased, the arrangements made for a funeral, the relationship between the claimant and the deceased and the situation of other relatives who might potentially pay instead. I argued that the system could be simplified most effectively if we treated the liabilities and any claim as a matter for the estate of the dead person. That position didn’t attract much support at first, but as the discussion went on more people saw the point of it. This is virtually the only circumstance in the UK system where we directly oblige family members other than spouses to take on the financial liabilities of their adult relatives.
It’s always a pleasure to learn from people who know much more than I do, and the representatives from the organisations for funeral directors were particularly impressive, not just for their detailed knowledge but also for their sensitivity and awareness of the issues. Unfortunately, the profession isn’t well regulated, and I was shocked to hear of bodies in England being kept in the freezer for months until fees could be met – in one case, for 25 years. Some problems can’t be solved by the market. There’s a strong argument for decommodification, and while there will always be some elements of the process that depend on personal choice, there’s also a case for reducing the role of payments and charges, for example by direct provision of burial lairs or cremation.