The title of this post is not a metaphor. I reported a few weeks ago about a session I’d been to, discussing maternity and funeral arrangements. Funerals represent a major expense for many people, reported last year as £3300 but apparently currently averaging over £3600. Part of the expense relates to social arrangements to mark a death, but an important part is simply the cost of either cremation (£600) or of a burial plot – according to a CAS report earlier this year, a plot ranges from £388 in the Western Isles to £1527 in East Dunbartonshire. We can’t deal with all the issues through the benefits system – which typically only allows a few hundred pounds for people in need – but we can do something about that part of the cost at least. If local authorities were able to acquire only a few acres for the purpose, it should be possible to devote enough land to provide universally for burials.
Estimates of how much land it would take differ. The land has to be selected appropriately, for access, drainage and maintenance, and kept without major development in perpetuity. One acre can hold 600 conventional lairs, though American standards double that to over 1200 by using shared graves. A hundred acres – three per council – is more than needed for all the deaths in Scotland in a year; a thousand acres could have a major cultural impact; three thousand acres could serve for generations.
Scotland is currently reviewing policies to take a million acres into community ownership. This is a small proposal to take a very limited proportion of those acres to fulfil an important public role: a dignified burial for everyone who wants one.