Hundreds have been given a pauper’s funeral in Leeds after dying alone or in poverty. Reporter Laura Bowyer investigates the stark reality of public health funerals.
SOARING funeral costs and the effects of the recession have left hundreds of families in Leeds unable to afford to give their loved ones a final farewell.
It means that more than two “paupers’ funerals” are carried out in the city, on average, every single week at a cost of more than a thousand pounds each.
Among those have been funeral services for a baby boy and a 101-year-old.
A YEP investigation has revealed that more than 650 of the funerals, also knows as public health funerals, have been organised in Leeds over the last five years.
Over the last decade a combination of the rising costs of funerals and the economic downturn have left some families too poor to afford a final farewell to their loved ones.
The YEP revealed last year that funeral costs rocketed twice in Leeds in just 12 months.
A comparison of eight key cities in the UK – Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield – shows that Leeds is the third highest charging for burials and the fourth for cremations. Leeds City Council and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust have been forced to step in to make sure that the deceased have been given a dignified end to their lives.
Between them, the two authorities have organised 659 funerals in just five years.
More than 400 of those were organised by the Hospitals’ Trust and 256 were arranged by the council.
Just over three-quarters of those were for men and more than 63 per cent were for people ages 60 and over.
Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn said: “It’s obviously very sad when a person has no-one to see them off on their final journey.
“The figures reflect the really tough times in which we are living.
“It’s quite striking to see the figures.”
Leeds City Council and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust have forked out hundreds of thousands of pounds to cope with the demand for the funerals.
The authorities spent a combined total of £665,904 over the last five years for the simple services.
Usually the services include a basic coffin, a hearse and the burial and cremation fees.
Sometimes there are only council staff and the funeral director in attendance.
Rev Chris Swift has conducted hundreds of public health funerals over the last 18 years on behalf of Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust.
The Trust’s head of chaplaincy services said: “Whatever you call it, it’s a funeral and it only happens once for that family.
“We think it’s really important to get it right and to do so very carefully.”
Under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, when someone dies outside of a hospital and there is no one else willing or able to pay for a funeral then the local authority must make the arrangements for a funeral.
If a person dies in a hospital then the hospital will organise their funeral.
Officials have to step in if families claim they cannot afford to make the arrangements.
When the authority has taken responsibility for a funeral then it is entitled to recover expenses from any estate left by the deceased in the form of a civil debt.
According to the Local Government Association (LGA) there has been a year-on-year rise in the number of public health funerals and local authorities had to pay for almost 3,000 in 2011.
The Association has also reported an increase in the number of family or friends unable to contribute to the costs of a funeral over the last three years.
Around 51 per cent of respondents to a survey by the LGA said there had been a rise in family or friends unwilling to contribute to the costs of a funeral.
Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust has already spent £43,588 between April and September last year for 72 public health funerals.
The Trust had to organised 91 funerals in 2011 compared with 64 in 2008.
During the last financial year the Trust spent more than £116,700 to pay for burials and cremations.
The average funeral organised by the Trust is between £1,075 and £2,000 – compared with between £705 and £1,250 in 2007.
Over the last financial year the council spent more than £37,971 to pay for the services.
The average cost of a public health funeral arranged by the council is £1,403 – compared with £1,126 five years ago.