The cost of dying


With the average cost of a funeral in the UK now £3,757, and the average debt taken on by families to pay for a funeral reaching £1,744, the funeral poverty crisis is worsening every year. Funeral costs have risen steeply (up to 30%), as simultaneously the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008 and the government’s crushing ‘Austerity’ policy have tightened the screws on the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society. It’s a bitter irony that up to 200,000 deaths may be linked to ‘Austerity’, with a combination of food and fuel poverty, cutbacks to health, social and mental health care services, and suicide all contributing to this estimate. So many of us are now too poor to live, and also too poor to die!

Today it was announced that the cost of a death certificate has risen from £4 to £11. It may seem a small amount, until you consider that up to ten death certificates may needed to release the body, arrange the funeral, and access the estate. It’s yet another pressure on grieving family members already struggling to provide a funeral that reflects their love and celebrates the deceased’s life.

While it’s possible to apply for a Funeral Expenses Payment from the DWP if you are claiming certain benefits, the payment will only cover an average of a third of the costs, can take weeks to arrive, and if another family member is in work, or considered next of kin and is ineligible (e.g. if the next of kin is a child), the claim will be rejected. Desperate people on zero-hours contracts, living hand-to-mouth with no savings and no spare money for life insurance or pre-paid funeral plans, will not be eligible. Up to half of all applications are rejected.

So what’s the alternative? There’s been a steep rise in crowdfunding for funerals; in the first nine months of 2016, 2007 crowdfunding pages for funerals were launched, raising an average of £1,300 each. In the same year it was calculated that 1.2 million people in the UK had borrowed £576 million from payday loan companies to pay funeral expenses, landing themselves in a serious cycle of debt. More people are choosing ‘garden burials’ – literally burying their deceased loved ones in their own back gardens, which eliminates the costs of buying a plot, conducting a funeral service and digging the grave. While this has always been an option chosen by those with large estates, or those who want to keep their dead family members close, it’s still not an option for the poorest – you will need to own your own home and the land you intend to use as a grave site and fulfill certain environmental health conditions.

So, as usual, already hard-pressed and underfunded local authorities are being relied upon to provide thousands of Public Health Funerals in the UK every year. There are sad echoes of the ‘Pauper’s Funeral’ of the Victorian era here: burials (costing an average of £700) can be in shared plots with no headstones, these may be re-opened to inter further corpses at a later date; after council cremations (costing an average of £1000), ashes are often scatted in the crematorium’s garden of remembrance, and it may or may not be possible for the family of the deceased to take possession of the ashes. It’s not the send-off that most of us would wish for for those we love, adding guilt and shame to grief. Although councils can attempt to recover some of the costs from the estate of the deceased, in 2015 some local authorities were paying up £250,000 for Public Health Funerals, and these costs can only have been rising since.

Finally, hospitals may be having to cope with storing bodies indefinitely, if the family is caught in the bind where the body cannot be released without a fee (£1000+), but the social fund will not pay out until the funeral is underway.

It’s an emotive issue that most people don’t want to think about. It’s hard enough dealing with bureaucracy and arranging a funeral while you are shocked and grieving, without adding a lifetime of financial pressure (and a reminder of bereavement with every loan repayment) and the guilt of only being able to provide a ‘Pauper’s Funeral’. Those who incur debt to pay for a funeral will likely be unable to pay for their own funeral, either, meaning that this crisis will worsen in the future. If you are facing this issue, there is help and advice available online, or at your Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

‘Austerity’ is not over, it was never about reducing the deficit. It will never be over because it’s an ideology, not a fiscal recovery policy. Reducing our dignity, our sense of social security, and performing a sneaky and despicable holocaust of the poor, sick and vulnerable is what it’s about. If we cannot perform as tax payers/consumers then we are expendable. The ‘Victorian Values’ that Thatcher asked us to return to have indeed returned and it’s horrifying.

Your government hates you

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?
Bertolt Brecht, The Solution

Every day my timelines and feeds are full of rage-inducing stories. The Parkland teens are ‘crisis actors’, meanwhile the NRA has bought off state legislators. Not only do the Grenfell Tower survivors not have justice, homes, or compensation, but the government is sneakily looking at reducing fire safety standards after lobbying from the plastics industry. The UK won’t accept as refugees victims of conflicts that we initiated, but we will spend fortunes on building fences to keep them out. The humanitarian crisis is Yemen is one the of the worst ever seen by the UN, but we keep on selling more and more weapons to the Saudis. The NHS doesn’t deserve funding, but banks are ‘too big to fail’. MPs get huge pay rises above the rate of inflation, but teachers and nurses don’t. There has still been no start made to the investigation of institutional child abuse that undoubtedly involves (at least the collaboration of) extremely powerful figures. Rees-Mogg lies and pretends he disapproves of abortion whilst profiting from drug companies that make abortifacient drugs. It costs more to deny people their benefits than it does to pay them their benefits, and people under benefits sanctions are dying. Families have no homes and are forced to rely on food banks but ‘our’ queen (she is not my queen) can get millions for repairing her palace full of priceless treasure.

I dunno, it seems to me that our rulers have taken old Bertolt’s advice and decided that we can all just fuck right off. Perhaps they believe their own ‘we live in a meritocracy’ bullshit, and thus find justification for the state of the world. They believe we all deserve whatever situation we are in. It’s patently not true. How the hell can we know that there’s no Einsteins slaving away in a sweatshop making trainers? A Marie Curie in a refugee camp on Lesvos? We will never know, and they will never have the chance to show us. We are languishing in a backwards world, using polluting technologies and materials and concentrating far more resources on killing and maiming each other than we ever do on helping each other and the beautiful (and, as far as we know, unique), world that we live upon. If everyone who had something to contribute to this world had the opportunity to do so, I truly believe we could be living in paradise right now. Yep, paradise. If we stopped believing all the bullshit of difference: nationhood, borders, politics, colour, creed, gender, whatever, and started to think collectively and act individually, we could have free universal healthcare, free universal education, free universal access to justice, free clean energy for all, a global exchange of ideas and creativity, no starvation, no homelessness. I’m not saying there’d be no conflicts and no cruelty or stupidity – we’d still be humans! We need evolution to happen for that problem to go away.

People … just lie to children about the future … “I want you children to know you can be absolutely anything you wanna be.” I’m like, “Why are you lying to these children?” Maybe four of them could be anything they wanna be. But the other 2,000 better learn how to weld. I count at least 60 Uber drivers. They could be anything they wanna be. Shut the fuck up. Really? They could be anything they wanna be? Then how come you’re a vice principal? Was that the dream? Did you dress up like a vice principal when you was a kid? Put your little vice principal hat on? Tell the kids the truth. Tell the kids the fucking truth. Say, “Hey kids, check this out. Check this out. You can be anything you’re good at. As long as they’re hiring.” And even then it helps to know somebody. Chris Rock, Tambourine

So, yeah, I think our government hates us. The kind of psychos who want to rule are fucking furious with us for not just being good taxable product. Why can’t we just get back to good old feudalism? We knew our place then. Fodder for the ambitions of ruthless scumbags. Why can’t we all start believing in God again, who laid everything out just how it was ‘meant to be’, no point questioning the world order? Or better still, the Hindu caste system, now there’s effective social organisation for you. And the promise of better luck next time if you’re obedient. They breed fear into us, and they drum stupidity into us. They use the time-honoured ‘divide and rule’ method. They distract us with glitter and big shiny round arses and love it that we mostly want to watch funny cat videos on the amazing and (potentially) truly democratic tool that is the internets.

It seems unlikely that the genie of so-called democracy (the representative, first-past-the-post system that we employ in the UK is not really ‘rule by the people’) can ever be got back into the bottle, and in any case, it’s a pretty effective panacea: it sounds like they give a crap because ‘the voters have the power’ (with poor education, biased and corrupt media and with liars standing for office?), and it can be marketed around the world as the antithesis of dictatorship.

“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see…”
“You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”
“No,” said Ford, “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?” Douglas Adams, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish

It would be expensive, bloody and time-consuming to reimpose feudalism by force. BUT, if they starve us, let us die in fires or industrial accidents, refuse to treat us when we’re sick, let us stab each other, freeze to death in the streets, or commit suicide when our disability benefits are cut off, our accusations of abuse at the hands of adults who were supposed to be protecting us are ignored, or we default on the mortgages and credit cards they urged us were the only meaningful means to acquire identity and worth, they can get rid of a huge swathe of the population, at least all the ones who don’t pay taxes and buy stuff. Then as soon as Brexit goes through, they can admit that this island is the world’s biggest tax haven and just get some quality people in instead. People they can rely on, people the government can finally have confidence in!


Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many – they are few.
Percy Bysshe Shelly, The Masque of Anarchy

PS I am aware I have used quotes from all-male authors here. I am going to have to look at that! And write another post with women’s takes on power.