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Fighting funeral poverty in Northern Ireland

The cost of funerals has been growing over recent years causing additional stress and strain on families trying to cope with bereavement. In our blog this week, Craig Harrison from Marie Curie tells us what they are doing to campaign against funeral poverty.

Funeral poverty is a significant problem across the UK. Research shows that one in ten people have taken on debt to pay for a loved one’s funeral, and current levels of funeral poverty are valued at over £130m.

In Northern Ireland, Marie Curie sees a number of factors contributing towards the issue.

Firstly, despite being among the cheapest places in the UK for a funeral, the cost in Northern Ireland is still incredibly high, and has grown significantly during the last decade. In 2004, the average cost of a funeral here was £1,589. This has now risen to £3,231 – an increase of 103%.

Burial costs also vary widely across different council areas in Northern Ireland – costing several times more in places like Belfast than they do in Fermanagh or Mid Ulster.

While the cost of funerals has been rising, financial support for those who struggle to pay has been drying up. Government spending on the Funeral Expenses Payments Scheme (funeral payments), which provides a contribution towards the cost of a basic funeral for those on qualifying benefits, dropped by 15% between 2012/13 and 2016/17.

Even when people are given support under the scheme, they are still left with a significant financial shortfall to make up, as the average award covers less than 35% of the cost of an average funeral.

To make matters worse, the value of the scheme has also been depreciating due to a £700 cap placed on the amount that can be awarded for things like coffin costs and funeral director’s fees. This cap has remained in place since 2003; had it risen in line with inflation, it would have been worth over £1,000 in 2017. 

It seems we have the makings of a perfect storm. With funeral costs remaining high, financial support from government declining, and the number of deaths in Northern Ireland expected to rise faster than anywhere else in the UK over the next 20 years, funeral poverty here will only continue to grow without urgent action.

Marie Curie recently launched a new campaign in Northern Ireland to help start the fightback. At the heart of this is our new Funeral Poverty Charter, which argues that everyone in Northern Ireland should have the right to:

  1. A dignified funeral without the legacy of unmanageable debt
  2. Clear and timely information about funeral costs
  3. Affordable and comparable funeral costs no matter where they live

Funeral debt and funeral poverty can make an already difficult time overwhelming for bereaved people – causing significant psychological distress, including feelings of guilt, inadequacy and stress, with a lasting impact on health and wellbeing.

No one should have to take on unmanageable debt just to give their loved one a proper send off, and we want to support people to help avoid this situation wherever possible.

Working with regional and local government and other stakeholders, Marie Curie is committed to eradicating funeral poverty wherever it exists in Northern Ireland.

Have you struggled to afford giving someone close to you a decent send off or been affected by funeral poverty? If you’re happy to share your experience please contact


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Mary McSorley 08-Oct-2018 at 12:02 hrs

I totally agree with Yvonne's comments below. Families seem to think it's disrespectful not to spend lavishly on a loved one's funeral even if they can't afford it. I would love to see a campaign that encourages people to consider buying coffins/caskets that are more environmentally friendly and also cheaper.
My personal experience of our local (rural) undertakers has been largely very positive and they deserve to be paid for their professional services. However, I have never seen them publicise their fees openly so if I had to pay for a funeral tomorrow I don't really have a clue what it might cost.


charlie lynn 07-Oct-2018 at 21:16 hrs

This is a subject I have been thinking about quite a lot lately. Thankfully I have a savings account at my local credit union that will double if I should die suddenly. I also have insurance with my local credit union and would strongly recommend that people should become more involved with credit unions.


Tony Brady 05-Oct-2018 at 16:43 hrs

As a former Social Security Officer, I found Craig Harrison's article helpful and informative. I did some additional burrowing into other sources and what I found is below. the local authority.
A Marie Curie Parliamentary Question on: How many bereaved applicants have actually been awarded a Bereavement Grant Application under present local conditions? That would truly add power to their advocacy..

If you’re one of those families that find themselves stuck financially after a loved one’s death, there is help available from the government. It’s means-tested – so you can’t simply blag a free wake – but they won’t take into account a house left by the deceased or any personal items left to a spouse. If you’re eligible, the social fund will pay for the following:
Burial fees for a particular plot Cremation fees, including the cost of the doctor’s certificate Travel to arrange or go to the funeral The cost of moving the body within the UK, if it’s being moved more than 50 miles Death certificates or other documents Up to £700 for any other funeral expenses, such as funeral director’s fees, flowers or the coffin. However, the payment usually will never cover the full cost of the funeral.
A word about the Social Fund - a much vaunted expedient by government - vacuous and misleading when approached about it. The SF was effectively abolished when it was hived off several years ago to unwilling local authorities to administer. There is no constraint on the LA's to use the money in the SF for individual claims on it. Indeed, it is much more complicated for claimants to deal with the local authority.
A Marie Curie Parliamentary Question on: How many bereaved applicants have actually been awarded a Bereavement Grant Application under present local conditions? That would truly add power to their advocacy..

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Yvonne Hutton 05-Oct-2018 at 15:57 hrs

I personally am appalled regarding the amount of money spent on coffins to either be burnt up or go in the ground and a simple plywood casket or a strong cardboard would be my preference. I would leave a proviso that this was my wish and not let the family be disgraced or thought mean.
Maybe not be the most popular with undertakers!!