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The dying shame of a lonely funeral
12:00pm Wednesday 25th September 2013 in Echo News
WHEN our lives come to an end we all hope we will be surrounded by family and friends at our final farewell.
Often planned well in advance, we hope there will be some carefully-chosen hymns, perhaps followed by a bit of a shindig where our loved ones will swap fond memories and anecdotes about us.
But for many, nothing could be further from reality.
The burial of those who have no family or who cannot afford to finance their own send offs often falls to local authorities and hospitals.
In some sad situations only a priest or official may be present at the lonely burial or cremation of someone without a next of kin.
For those who perhaps do have kin but who are facing financial difficulties, funerals will be brief and basic.
In South Essex local authorities have paid for more than 400 funerals in the last five years .
Across Southend, Basildon and Castle Point councils have spent more than £100,000 on burying people who couldn’t afford their own funerals.
The Echo can reveal that 96 people in Southend have had their funerals paid for by the council since April 2008 at a cost of £98,000.
Basildon Council has paid £17,000 for 18 funerals in the same period, while five took place in Castle Point and none in Rochford.
Castle Point has also held another four already this financial year.
Southend and Basildon hospitals between them have paid for the burials of more than 200 other people in just the last three years.
And another 4,100 people across the whole of Essex have had their funerals paid for by the Department for Work and Pensions since April 2008.
The department pays for funerals of people whose next of kin are claiming benefits, whereas it is a council’s responsibility to pay for the burials of those who don’t have any family, or have family who do not claim benefits but cannot pay for the funeral.
The figures concern Fr Frank Smith, associate priest at Holy Trinity Church, in Southchurch Boulevard, Southend.
He said: “To hear that there are that many is a surprise. That’s an awful lot.
“I suppose it’s good that the council and the hospital are paying for them because everyone still needs to have a burial of some sort.”
He added: “I’ve done a few of them and it’s a very sad business. There’s nobody there apart from you and the person being buried, and there’s not much of a service you can do. Irun through the service, with all the prayers, but there’s no music.
“What sort of world are we living in where someone dies and has no friends or family?
Everybody is worth something.”
Southend Council’s bereavement services manager, Gary Green, said there has been a rise in the number of cases since the recession began.
Southend homeless charity Harp has also reported a surge in demand for foodbanks since the recession hit.
Gill Garwood, chief executive of Harp, commented on the funeral figures saying: “We see a high level of disadvantaged people within the community and that could be why our services experience a high level of demand."
Southend’s ageing population leads to high burial costs
LOCAL authorities try to claim the money back from the estates of the deceased when they can.
Gary Green, Southend Council’s bereavement services manager, says that one reason for the borough’s high spending may be due to its demographics.
Mr Green said the borough has a large population as well as many nursing homes
and is a popular destination for people to retire to.
He added: “I think the other thing is the recession. We’ve seen the number of cases rise and I’ve also noticed we’ve got younger people as well. There’s been an increase in the number
of people in their 50s.
“I think people of that sort of age are probably not prepared for paying for their burial.”
The council does its best to trace the relatives and estates of people whose funerals it is asked
to pay for. This includes hiring genealogists and legal teams to try to track down any surviving
family members to reclaim their costs.
It also carries out thorough interviews of relatives in cases where they have asked for it to
pay for a funeral.
Mr Green said: “It is a bit like the TV show heir hunters.A lot of people don’ t realise how
i nvol ve d local authorities can get into these cases.”
Basildon Council has recovered £2,000 from relatives of people it has provided funerals for.
When it comes to the funerals themselves, councils hire a funeral director to carry out a simple service in accordance with the family’s wishes if any relatives have been in touch with
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