Leader comment: These indecent burial charges must stop

Charging for the burial of children is a blot on our humanity and councils '“ and Sturgeon '“ must act now.
Bearers a carrying a coffin into a carBearers a carrying a coffin into a car
Bearers a carrying a coffin into a car

There is something especially tragic about the death of a child; the loss of a young life, that snuffing out of so much potential, is cruel, indeed.

Thankfully, infant mortality rates are low. This is a tragedy the vast majority of parents are spared.

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Those who do suffer the loss of a child have nothing but our sympathy. But we can, as a society, offer more than just words of condolence. We can act, too.

The majority of Scotland’s councils have scrapped burial fees for children. This is a decision made not on financial grounds but on compassionate ones. It is, thank goodness, still possible for politicians to do something simply because it is the right thing to do.

Unfortunately, nine of Scotland’s 32 local authorities continue to charge bereaved parents fees of up to £800 for burials.

We are not always convinced by arguments for universality. There are debates to be had about, for example, free prescriptions which disproportionately benefit the better off. But surely there is no debate to be had about the abolition of burial fees for children?

We Scots have a good conceit of ourselves as a compassionate, humane lot. That some parents are presented with bills by Scottish councils after they lay their children to rest runs counter to that romantic notion of ourselves.

Prime Minister Theresa May has recently announced that the practice of charging bereaved parents for the burial of children will be ended in England. We believe First Minister Nicola Sturgeon should follow suit. Mrs May acted after Labour MP Carolyn Harris told the Commons how she had had to take out a loan to bury her son. Ms Harris’s courageous description of her experience threw the issue into sharp focus.

Of course, for many families, the cost may have a negligible effect on household finances but we know – thanks to Ms Harris – that some parents are forced into debt simply so they can pay to bury a child.

Councils that continue to charge for the burial of children must stop. We want to see council leaders driving this change but if they will not, then Ms Sturgeon should bring pressure to bear upon them. If more financial support from the Scottish Government is required, the First Minister should see to that.

The continued charging of bereaved parents for the burial of their children is positively indecent and it must stop, now.