£500k to end child burial fees in Scotland is ‘chicken feed’

Parents in eight local authority areas face being the last in the UK charged an upfront fee in the event of their child's death.
Parents in eight local authority areas face being the last in the UK charged an upfront fee in the event of their child's death.
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The SNP has no reason not to abolish child burial fees in Scotland, the MP who campaigned to end the practice in England and Wales has said, as figures revealed how little it would cost to ease pressure on bereaved parents.

Carolyn Harris, whose eight- year-old son Martin died in a road accident in 1989, said: “I can’t see how the SNP in Scotland cannot do it, if Labour in Wales can and the Tories in England can.”

Parents in eight local authority areas face being the last in the UK charged an upfront fee in the event of their child’s death.

Interment fees for children can exceed £800 in Scotland, depending on the circumstances, and a postcode lottery in terms of the ages when other councils start applying charges means that parents of children as young as 14 can be asked to pay adult rates. Ms Harris, the Labour MP for Swansea East, has written to Ms Sturgeon asking her to intervene and end the practice.

READ MORE: Plea to Nicola Sturgeon over child burial fees in Scotland

In 2016, there were 357 recorded deaths of people under the age of 18 in Scotland. At the highest rates, paying the burial fee for every child would cost well under £500,000.

Ms Harris said the figure was “chicken feed”. She added: “In a way, that’s probably the harshest cost, simply because it has to paid before a funeral can be arranged. A lot of funeral directors are finding they have to engage the services of bailiffs because people can’t afford to pay for the funerals they are organising.

“That’s not because they are having big fancy funerals, it’s because if you’ve got a choice to make between putting shoes on your kids and paying for a funeral, you’re going to put shoes on your kids.”

When Martin died, Ms Harris said her family struggled to meet the costs. Parents are most at risk of funeral poverty “because no one anticipates losing a child”, she said.

“It was an accident, so I certainly didn’t have the money. Had it been a long-term illness, there are so many costs associated with having a child who is terminally ill.

“When I lost Martin, I couldn’t even fill a kettle, let alone fill in a 37-page form, but I wouldn’t have been eligible anyway.”

Ms Harris’ family relied on a collection by neighbours and went to the bank for a loan. “When they came to the house with the money, we didn’t even look at it.

“We just said ‘Thank you’ and put it in a drawer.

“It was only when the bill came in that we actually looked at the bill. At the time, it was £1,700... we just didn’t have the money.

“So we opened the envelope and it was £1,000 and then David went to the bank and took out a bank loan [for £700].”