Farewell to the unloveliest newspaper

The <em>Sport</em> and <em>Sunday Sport</em> have gone under, taking their torrent of nipples and ma

Daily Sport

Farewell, then, to the unloveliest newspaper that ever lived, the wretchedly tacky ejaculation of juvenile chortling and tits that was the Sport and Sunday Sport.

Goodbye to the avalanche of breasts. Goodbye to the nipple count. Goodbye to the simian dribbling over bits of people's bodies. Goodbye, too, to the comedy anti-news news articles, which once upon a time jarred against their tabloid competitors, but seem pretty half-hearted compared to the kind of made-up crap we have to put up with now. World War 2 Bomber Found on Moon. Hitler Was a Woman. Bus At North Pole. Oh, how we laughed. But we're not laughing now.

There were slightly less chucklesome things in the Sport down the years, mind you. The court reports about sexual crimes, written in slightly unpleasant amounts of detail, sat in disturbingly close proximity to pictures of half-naked women, there to help you masturbate yourself into a coma. Perhaps it was all just a lot of harmless fun and I am a humourless wretch; I don't know. I just know that it doesn't seem quite so hilarious, in retrospect.

I suppose as someone who calls himself a journalist, I'm meant to be saddened by the departure of another national publication. And I'm not saying I don't understand how devastating it must be for people who have worked hard and who are now out of a job; I feel as sorry for them as I would for anyone flung on to the scrapheap at a moment's notice. But these newspapers were a cavalcade of cheap and nasty tat demeaning news-stands up and down the land by being placed next to real newspapers. For those who worked there, I'm sorry for you, but, on the other hand: welcome to the clean world.

What went wrong to kill off the Sport and Sunday Sport? I suppose the ready availability of porn on the web is the biggest factor. Why go and buy a newspaper for softcore smut when you can access a world of unimaginable filth catering for any kind of taste with the click of a mouse or using your mobile phone? It seems a bit archaic to go into a newsagent and embarrass yourself in the hope of giving your solo sex fun a few go-faster stripes, when you might as well just fire up the laptop and knock yourself out. When you're only flogging your papers on the promise of more boobs than the page threes elsewhere, with only a few ropey articles constituting the "news", you're putting yourself in a vulnerable position. And so it's proved.

At the paper shop on Sunday, there was just a gap where the Sunday Sport used to be, a void in the plastic display, the absence of a gaudy front page with an upskirt photo of a minor celebrity bending over and some paparazzo stuffing a camera into her arse. That wasn't there. And things already looked brighter because of it.

One down, several more to go. But judging by the eagerness with which the Daily Star on Sunday welcomed readers of the Sunday Sport, someone somewhere still reckons there's a market for it. Time will tell if they're right.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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Can’t afford to die: the rise of funeral poverty

The cost to councils of public health funerals has risen by 30 per cent in the past four years. 

Dying, as you'll know if you've ever planned a funeral, is an expensive business. If your relatives plan a service with a funeral director, they should expect to pay around £3,500*. Burial alone will cost you around £1,750 (making cremation, at £660, seem like a positive steal). And that's before they've even bought a box to put you in. So it is unsurprising that, according to insurance company Sun Life Research, one in seven families struggles to pay funeral costs. 

Families who can't pay are left with two options. First, there's the Social Fund, a centrally-managed pot of money which can offer a one-off payment to help with funeral costs (it also covers things like maternity grants and the winter fuel allowance). Councils themselves also offer "public health funerals" for either people who die with no next of kin, or whose next of kin can't afford to bury them.

Public health funerals are, it seems, on the rise - partly because of the rising costs of burial and the limited nature of the Social Fund, but also thanks to austerity measures which mean that luxuries (like burying your loved ones) are no longer within reach for the poorest families in Britain. 

Coffin up

A Freedom of Information request by BBC Local Radio found that, according to responses from 300 councils of the 409 who offer public health burials, the costs to councils of these public health services was up an average of 30 per cent from four years ago. Part of this rise is due to the skyrocketing costs of funerals, but part was down to the fact that the number of public health funerals had increased by 11 per cent.  

The assistant director of bereavement at Cardiff City Council told the BBC that when he started his job 20 years ago, the service was mostly used by "vagrants or alcoholics". However, the pool of those accessing council funds for burial has widened dramatically: 

"Over the years it has increased, and sometimes there are families but they are estranged or divorced, or there are families where they claim there's an inability to pay."

Another factor is that applying to the Social Fund, as opposed to your council, is complex and confusing, so many who are eligible for it don't get the money they're entitled to. Even if they do, they're only given £700; an amount that hasn't increased over the past decade despite the rising cost of funeral services. 

Grave policies 

Social policy academics from the University of Bath, led by Katherine Woodthorpe, recently investigated the role of bereavement in public policy. In their paper, they note that "little attention has been paid towards benefits associated with bereavement". The researchers conclude that the system needs to be simplified so families don't have to pay the costs up front, then apply to complicated systems of funding afterwards:

The most constructive change to the current system would be to re-organise the claim process so that individuals could be informed of their eligibility and (potentially) what they might receive from the state before committing to funeral costs. The current practice of submitting a claim after committing to funeral costs is counterproductive, leads to confusion and is the creator of unnecessary stress and financial difficulty for newly bereaved individuals.

When Woodthorpe's paper came out last year, the Telegraph reported its findings under the headline "Paupers’ funerals making comeback as families exploit loophole to save funeral costs", based on the fact that some families who couldn't afford services were going to councils for funeral funding rather than applying to the Social Fund. It included reports of council workers' "anger" at seeing people "who claimed they could not pay then turning up to the laden with expensive bouquets and other embellishments". 

It’s more than possible that these funds are occasionally misallocated and exploited, but we also need to remember that respectful disposal of the dead, while something we take for granted, is deeply ingrained in our culture – which is why there is a dedicated public health budget to ensure that this process isn't restricted to those with thousands of pounds in the bank.It's also worth noting that even the price of the most "expensive" bouquet wouldn't make much of a dent in modern funeral costs. 

It’s perhaps a sign of the times that a respectful burial, which is a deeply symbolic and emotionally significant ritual in all cultures, is now seen as a luxury, increasingly beyond the reach of the poorest families - and one which we bedgrudge those who are too poor to access it without help. 

*Costs are estimates from Money Saving Expert. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.