The Church of Scotland has agreed to investigate the increasing costs of holding funerals, following an intervention at its annual gathering.
Speaking during the debate at the General Assembly of the Kirk, the Rev Sarah Ross (Minister of Forth St Paul’s Parish Church in South Lanarkshire) gave an impassioned plea for the Church and Society Council to investigate the issue of so-called ‘funeral poverty’ which is caused by the sharp rise in the cost of burial plots and other associated charges.
She said: “I’ve asked for a nation-wide investigation to see whether what we experience locally is represented across the country. In my area, I believe that the council is targeting vulnerable people at the most vulnerable time to make money the easiest possible way.”
“Burials are an important part of life in many parts of Scotland and we are concerned that people will feel they have no choice but to use crematoria more and more. In rural communities cemeteries are often closer than the nearest crematorium not only for the funeral service but also for family to visit afterwards as an important part of the grieving process,” said Ms Ross.
Depute Clerk of Lanark Presbytery, the Rev Bryan Kerr, added: “We are concerned that local authorities are charging what seems to us to be exorbitant fees for burials. Current costs in South Lanarkshire are over £1,880 to purchase a lair and have a loved one buried within it, compared to around £490 for a cremation.”
Mr Kerr also said he was concerned that some families may experience a delay in burying their loved ones because they cannot raise the money to pay the upfront costs of burial.
In 1998 a report was brought to the General Assembly by the then Church and Nation Committee, called ‘Debt and Dying’ which encouraged all involved in the undertaking profession, including cemetery and crematorium owning authorities, to assist relatives and friends in avoiding needless expenditure which may lead to debt.
The motion was agreed and added to the instruction given to the Church and Society Council. The Council says it will conduct an investigation into this issue with a view to making recommendations on how to tackle this important issue.
The report will be produced ahead of the 2014 Church of Scotland General Assembly.
The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland is meeting in Edinburgh from 18-24 May 2013. Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow and consultant Carla J Roth are there all week, reporting, liaising and commenting.
* Ekklesia reports and commentary from the 2013 Kirk General Assembly, plus those from 2012 and 2011: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/kirkgeneralassembly