October 25, 2016

Bodies left to science to beat funeral fees

DESPERATE Scots are trying to donate their
bodies to science to escape soaring funeral
costs, MPs have been told.

But some of the bodies end up being rejected
because of disease, post-mortems or because
anatomy departments are full up – leaving
relatives with hefty bills.

The Commons Work and Pensions Select
Committee has launched an inquiry into
bereavement benefits amid fears that families
are being plunged into “funeral poverty”.

It comes as funeral costs have soared up to
£5,000 in recent years, forcing a rising
number of Scots to be laid to rest in
paupers’ graves.

In 2014, almost 500 people were given state-
funded funerals, at a total cost of almost

The alarm has been raised by the Centre for
Anatomy and Human Identification at the
University of Dundee, which receives up to
200 applications to donate bodies every year.

Professor Sue Black, the centre’s director,
said it was accepting around 80 bodies each
year to be studied by medical students – up
from only 20 a decade ago.

Some people approach the centre to offer
their bodies after death as a thank you for
treatment by the NHS, or to avoid a
traditional religious funeral, the Professor
said. But she said the Dundee area had –
after Glasgow and Inverclyde – the worst
poverty in Scotland, adding: “It is therefore
not unusual for our bequeathal secretary to
receive calls that will relate to concerns
over funeral costs.

“People getting closer to the grave realise
they have not set aside the £3,000 or £4,000
that their family will have to find to pay
for their funeral.

“In a deprived area like this, they don’t
want their family to have that burden – but
there is no guarantee that we will accept the
body, which may come as a shock to the
families. It is important that families do
not see bequeathal as an alternative to
paying for a funeral, although some people
use it that way.”

Prof Black said she believed other anatomy
departments across the UK were in the same
situation, with many accepting far fewer
bodies. Her own department received
applications from England and Wales, as well
as from across Scotland.

MPs on the committee said constituents had
told them they had been denied their
relatives’ ashes because they were unable to
pay for the funeral.

The Scottish Government has launched its own
review into the crisis ahead of new powers
being devolved to Holyrood. MSPs will get
control of the “regulated social fund” which
includes the funeral payment benefit under
the Scotland Bill.

It currently offers low-income families up to
£700 for expenses such as funeral directors’
fees, flowers, burial and cremation fees.
Citizens Advice Scotland has found the
average basic funeral in Scotland can now
range from £2,500 to £5,000.

In its written submission to MPs Citizens
Advice said “there are a number of problems
with the current system”. It has called for
clearer eligibility rules and the end of
applicants having to pay upfront deposits
before receiving state support.

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