The cost of dying: Threat of ‘funeral poverty’ stressful for whānau
Families are suffering psychological and financial trauma because of their inability to farewell loved ones with appropriate “dignity and respect” due to growing costs, funeral directors say.
Evans Funeral Services is asking the community to start looking at pre-arranging funerals for their whānau to prevent going into debt as a result of “funeral poverty”.
Office manager Joy Baty said when she talked to whānau of a deceased loved one she could see the stress in their eyes.
“When you tell them about the Work and Income (funeral) grant, tell them how much the funeral will cost, you can see them go into a re-budgeting mode.
“They divide it among themselves because the balance between what a funeral could cost and the Work and Income grant, if you qualify for it, is significant.”
Many whānau depend on the funeral grant for cemetery fees, Mrs Baty said.
“The current maximum grant is $2280.72 and our cemetery fee is $2200, so a big chunk of the grant goes into the cemetery fee for the burial itself.
“It is hard for whānau to strike a balance and make it work. They are forced to negotiate a low budget send-off instead of giving their loved one a nice farewell.
“Putting the grant up to $4000 to $5000 will definitely ease this pressure.”
Evans managing director David Parker says the service had to fill out complex forms for whānau to access the grant and often people did not know the complexity of the eligibility criteria.
“We just tell them to leave it to us. The issue is not everyone has this knowledge or insurance cover. There are people having to live day-to-day out there.
“The first thing I would advise everyone to start is the pre-arrangement because when the family are sitting here they are not too sure about whether they are making right decisions on the deceased’s behalf.
“Pre-arrangement is a good way to take the psychological and financial burden off of your whānau.
“A lot of people are already doing it these days. The whānau come in and choose what they want. This way they know the costs beforehand and are prepared for what’s going to come.”
The Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand (FDANZ) has called on the Government to increase the Work and Income Funeral Grant in the 2022 Budget so that eligible low-income families are able to farewell loved ones with dignity and respect.
Chief executive Gillian Boyes says the maximum grant of $2280 is “woefully inadequate”.
“This amount covers just 37 percent of the cost of a simple funeral cremation and only 29 percent of a funeral and burial — well short of the essential funeral costs that the grant was designed to cover.
“Everybody’s talking about the cost of living but what about the cost of dying?
“Apart from CPI (Consumer Price Index) adjustments, the funeral grant was last increased nearly 20 years ago so changes are long overdue. With the average cost of a burial plot alone being $3523, it’s clear the grant is removing all choice for low-income families to farewell their loved ones in a meaningful way.”
Ms Boyes says families are being driven to make difficult decisions.
“Our members often see families choose a cremation when a burial might be more appropriate for cultural or religious reasons.
“We also know some families can only afford to choose direct cremation options with no funeral at all. It’s frankly outrageous that these families have to make this choice when they are meant to have access to something called a funeral grant.”
The FDANZ has proposed an immediate increase of the maximum amount payable under the funeral grant to $6300 “which would cover 80 percent of the cost of a simple funeral with a burial, and brings it into line with ACC’s funeral provision for those who die by accident”.
“Given this is an asset and income-tested grant, the estimated fiscal impact would be limited to a maximum of an additional $14 million based on the numbers of claimants who meet the current eligibility criteria,” Ms Boyes said.
“Compared to the other asks and investments that will be made during this year’s Budget, we don’t think this is asking for much for some of society’s most vulnerable.
“There are also downstream savings. We know not being able to farewell someone can contribute to poorer mental health outcomes, which might later be a cost to the Government.”
The FDANZ has asked the Ministry of Social Development to provide clear guidance on what is classed as essential under the grant to ensure consistency and equity of access to the full entitlement for those who are eligible for the grant.
“Looking ahead to other ways this support could be improved, we would love to see a simpler process for applying so that vulnerable New Zealanders at what may be an extremely difficult time do not face unnecessary barriers to accessing this grant if they are eligible.
“Currently, claimants must complete a 12-page form setting out huge details of their incomes and assets, with supporting documentation.”
The FDANZ has also called for MSD to commit to reviewing the allowable income and assets of claimants before next year’s Budget to ensure asset tests were reasonable, especially in the context of the cost of living outstripping increases in wages and benefits over time.
Ms Boyes said the FDANZ was advocating for these changes because its members were on the front-line and too often saw “the devastating impact on vulnerable families if they are not able to farewell their loved ones with appropriate dignity and respect”.