The Scottish Parliament has signalled the first step to fairness, voting to introduce index-linked funeral payments, signalling a major step forward in the fight to help bereaved families.
The NAFD, which has been campaigning strongly for the move at Holyrood and Westminster for a number of years, welcomed the news from Edinburgh. Interim CEO Graham Lymn said he hoped politicians at Westminster would now follow suit and look at linking funeral payments to inflation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The move means that Scotland will take the lead over the rest of the UK, where funeral benefits for low-income families have remained static for more than 14 years.
The measure was agreed by MSPs during the final reading of the Social Security (Scotland) Bill, introducing a wide range of measures designed to modernise systems and payments in Scotland.
As NAFD members will be well aware, at present low-income families can get only £700 to help cover almost everything relating to the funeral, including the coffin, flowers, celebrant or minister’s fees and the services of the funeral director in making all of the arrangements. Going forward, in Scotland, the capped £700 element will now be increased annually in line with inflation. The measures are expected to come into operation next year, with the increases following that.
The vote, meaning that the £700 payment is not set in stone, is a symbolic moment and important turning point in the debate about fair access to funeral services. The NAFD will continue to put pressure on the rest of the United Kingdom to follow suit.
Interim CEO, Graham Lymn, said: “We are delighted that the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament has taken this important first step to offering greater help for bereaved families.
“The NAFD has consistently voiced concerns about the inadequacy of the funeral expenses payment, which has remained unchanged at £700 for more than fourteen years and has to cover almost everything relating to the funeral including the coffin, flowers, celebrant or minister’s fees and the services of the funeral director in making all of the arrangements.
“This will help support those who really need it at a time of grief and sorrow, and we hope that MPs and Government ministers at Westminster will appreciate what their colleagues in Scotland are doing, and follow suit.”
The NAFD has stepped up its campaign for index-linking throughout the UK in 2014 and gained the support of Cruse Bereavement Care that year in a joint letter to then Prime Minister, David Cameron.
The following year, QSA supported the initiative and co-signed a letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. With this support, our correspondence with Ministers and other political stakeholders highlighted the importance of obtaining index linking.
To achieve such positive change in Scotland is very welcome and demonstrates the work that the NAFD has been doing to support bereaved families that our members serve. More recently, a meeting of the Cross Party Group (CPG) for Funerals and Bereavement in the Scottish Parliament, provided a forum for Citizens’ Advice Scotland and John Birrell to present a paper setting out the need for index linking and the costs involved. Following the meeting, the co-Convener of the Group sent a letter to Jeane Freeman MSP, the Minister for Social Security, setting out the support of the Group for index linking.
As many of you know, the CPG was instigated by the NAFD in 2011 and continues to fund its secretariat to ensure the Group serves as an effective forum to raise issues of concern to the funeral industry and bereavement organisations. Following the meeting, the NAFD has also worked with local members in Scotland to lobby their MSPs to support the proposal.
The result of this joined-up action is now here for all to see and really demonstrates the importance of the NAFD’s political and public relations work in Scotland. Had we not provided the essential first platform for John Birrell and Citizens Advice Scotland, it is difficult to see how this issue would have gained the support it did. Had we not been sat around the table to hear about the proposal, we would not have been in a position to galvanise support in the way we did.
NAFD members across the four nations of the United Kingdom can be proud to have played their part in this matter. We would particularly like to thank those Scottish members who took the time to contact your MSP.
Our collective voice has led to positive change that will make a huge difference to the lives of thousands of bereaved families.