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Funeral Costs Keep Rising



Value for money sometimes goes up and sometimes go down. For mobile phones and other electronic goods, it goes up. Today our technology can do astonishing things. We hold more computing power on the palm of our hands than the Apollo astronauts took to the moon in the 1960s and ’70s.

The flip-side is that funerals were much better value for money back then. People found it easier to pay, partly because they were more prepared for the end of the life and partly because expectations weren’t so high. People saved for funerals and didn’t so much feel the need to have elaborate ceremonies. That was something for film stars and the rest of what they called the jet-set in those days.

Nowadays the jet-set is much bigger: travelling overseas isn’t an exotic and expensive event any more. The country is much richer and just as people are living in greater style, so they expect to be buried in greater style too. The media ― and television in particular ― encourage a competitive side to life... and also to death. At the same time, families have become looser and less easily defined. There were once clear lines of authority and responsibility, so that it was easy to know who would be organizing and paying for a funeral when a relative passed away.

All this change has contributed to the worrying present-day increase in funeral poverty, where people can’t afford the costs of even a standard funeral from a high-street director. Funeral inflation, or the average increase in costs, has been running at around 7% a year for the past decade and more, which is much higher than the standard rate of inflation. Among many other sources of increased cost, EU legislation means that crematoriums have had to fit expensive filtration systems to ensure that mercury from fillings doesn’t enter the atmosphere. All this means that funeral costs have risen higher than wages and salaries, placing a bigger burden on grieving families and friends at one of the most difficult times in their times.

Inevitably, some people arranging a funeral are forced to keep costs to an absolute minimum, regardless of their own wishes for how a funeral should be. They may even ask for a so-called “pauper’s funeral”, in which costs are covered by a local authority. These funerals were once mostly given to those who, like tramps and other members of the homeless community, had died without friends or relatives to arrange and cover the costs of their burial or cremation. Today “pauper’s funerals” are increasingly happening to those who don’t die alone in the world, but whose friends and relatives are unable to pay for burial.

It can be a distressing experience to attend this kind of funeral. They take place right at the beginning of the day and the emphasis is on speed and efficiency, not on commemorating the life of the deceased person in an appropriate and dignified way. Mourners can find that they have an additional burden: beside their grief at their loss, they can feel guilt about not having the best possible funeral for a parent or sibling.

Is this situation likely to improve? It doesn’t seem as though it will in the near future, because austerity has become part of the financial landscape. But there is a way to fight back. A funeral plan is a way to keep costs down without sacrificing quality. It’s also a way to ready ourselves for the psychological blow that we will face when we lose someone dear to us. Calm and careful thought in the present will ensure that the future won’t catch us unprepared.

National Federation of Funeral Directors