Scotland politics

Plan for new benefit to tackle Scots 'funeral poverty'

Close-up of a closed coffin and funeral flowers Image copyright Thinkstock

The Scottish government plans to create a new benefit to help people struggling to pay for funeral costs.

Ministers have set out proposals to prevent people who are struggling financially from being pushed into poverty by the death of a loved one.

They hope to launch the new Funeral Expense Assistance benefit by the summer of 2019.

Equalities Secretary Angela Constance said she was taking "decisive action" over what was a "growing issue".

The cost of burials and cremations has been on the rise, studies have shown.

In 2016 a basic burial, on average, cost more than £1,300, excluding undertakers fees, while the average local authority cremation cost £670.

A 2016 study by the Stirling Citizens Advice bureau found there had been a steep rise in so-called "paupers' funerals", which cost local authorities £500,000 in the previous year.

The new benefit is part of a 10-point plan which commits the government to a range of actions over funeral costs.

It includes a range of advice services, including guidance on funeral costs, consumer protection in relation to funeral plans, a Social Innovation Fund to tackle funeral poverty and the pilot of a "funeral bond" to help people save up for their own burial.

'Increased difficulties'

Ms Constance said the government was committed to "supporting those who need it most following a bereavement".

She said: "The death of a loved one is an incredibly difficult time for anyone. It can be even harder when money is tight. We know funeral costs can push people into poverty - and often it is those already in financial hardship who face increased difficulties.

"That is why we are taking decisive action to tackle this growing issue and have engaged with local authorities, the funeral sector and other support services. I am pleased by the willingness to work together to find solutions that support more affordable funerals."

The Scottish government held a national conference on funeral poverty in November 2016, and has hosted a series of round-table discussions on the issue.

The plans were also informed by a report by the Scottish Working Group on Funeral Poverty.

The group's chairman John Birrell said he was "increasingly concerned" about rising costs, saying bereaved relatives would experience "more and more distress" if action was not taken.

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