OVER a period of the last six or seven years, Dundee Pensioners’ Forum has listened to many harrowing stories of the stress of finding money to pay for the funeral of a loved one.

Such is the expense of a funeral today that the cost sends many into a spiral of debt. In particular we were hearing from a generation of pensioners, now well into their 70s and 80s, most of whom worked all their lives in low-paid jobs and had been unable to make provision for their own or their spouse’s funeral costs. Costs which, if it is their nearest and dearest who has died first, they have struggled to meet or which, in the case of their own funeral would fall upon their families. Also, acutely aware of the number of early deaths in the city – the consequence all too often of Dundee’s drug culture – the Forum was aware of the catastrophic financial effects on the poorest of families.

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Death is life’s one absolute certainty, attendant debt should not be a consequence, and in a “better nation” should be eradicated!

We know only too well that arranging the funeral of someone you love is one of life’s most stressful moments. It is a time when it is very difficult to think straight and the tension between the desire to give a “good send-off” and affordability can be overwhelming. And so many decisions are made on the spot – about the quality of coffins, the number of cars, the flowers and the hotel reception – at a time when grieving families are least able to concentrate on the financial implications. It is a time when confidential and trusted support is invaluable. Could we, we wondered, find a way of making such confidential and trusted support available?

We got together a group of people we trusted. We called ourselves the Funeral Poverty Action Group and quickly found that we were pushing at open doors. The Scottish Government were also committed to alleviating funeral poverty. After three years of research and hard work, and with the help of both Dundee City Council and the Scottish Government, we gave birth to a charity called Funeral Link.

Funeral Link has been set up specifically to prevent funeral poverty for those who are most vulnerable and in greatest need in Dundee. The staff at Funeral Link offer support. They help bereaved families to save money and at the same time provide a dignified funeral. They help these families to access all the benefits to which they are entitled (the Scottish Government have made funeral benefits more widely available, though there is still a huge gap between these payments and actual funeral costs). With only two members of staff Funeral Link has, in just six months of operation, supported 73 individuals and families and saved 18 of them a total of £16,742.

It has done this by first, face to face, giving a sensitive and sympathetic listening ear. By helping people to see that a “good send-off” and affordability can be compatible. They have enabled people to make informed choices by getting an accurate financial breakdown of the constituent elements of a funeral – something that is often too much to cope with when you are grieving. With the help of partner agencies such as Citizens’ Advice, social work and others, they then try to ensure that people are able to get the right support for longer-term bereavement needs and, where appropriate, help with future money management.

Beyond this immediate supportive action, Funeral Link also seeks to promote awareness in the wider community around funeral planning and end-of-life matters – generally opening conversations around what is still largely a taboo subject.

Funeral Link is the only organisation in Scotland currently set up to work in this way aiming to prevent funeral poverty through a support service and education. 77% of the bereaved families they have supported live in areas of Dundee which fall into the 40% most deprived in Scotland. They have helped to prevent three National Assistance (“pauper’s”) funerals.

People can contact Funeral Link directly or through referral from agencies including the NHS bereavement team, Roxburghe House, Registrars, Victim Support and Money Advice services.

There are two particular groups who have sought and been given their support. The first are families and individuals who have been recently bereaved and are either in the process of organising a funeral or who have already held a funeral and are now struggling to pay the bill. The others are individuals who are concerned about costs and choices for their own funerals.

Dundee City Council have given important recent funding, evidence of their recognition of the importance of this new organisation, which they see as an exemplar for the rest of the country. In a better country, funeral poverty will be eradicated.

Dundee Pensioners’ Forum