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Why people are crowdfunding their funerals

With the costs soaring and government aid falling short, people are turning to crowdfunding to bury their loved ones. 

They say it takes a village to raise a child. It increasingly seems that it also takes a whole community to lay a relative or friend to rest – or at least to pay for it.

The cost of death is rising. The price of the average funeral has gone up 92 per cent since 2004 to £8,126 – according to the 2015 Cost of Dying report from insurers Sunlife, while a “basic” funeral (with no flowers, memorial or catering at the wake) now costs £3,693.

By far the biggest expense is the funeral director’s fee which includes the coffin, hearse and collection of the deceased, which will now set you back £2,204 on average.

After the funeral director’s fee, the second largest cost is the cremation (£688) or burial fee (£1,822).

According to the report, the main reasons given by funeral directors for the rise in cremation and burial fees is “cuts to local authority budgets”; in order to make up for some of the austerity measures placed on them, many local authorities have removed subsidies for burial and increased crematoria fees.

Optional extras add up too, catering the wake costs £354 on average and flowers come in at £155.

Against this background of soaring prices, people are finding themselves unable to meet the even the basic expenses of burying their dead. Increasing numbers of bereaved people are turning to internet crowdfunding sites like Crowdfunder, Justgiving and Youcaring to help raise the money needed to pay for their loved ones funerals.

Charles Wells of Justgiving tells me he has noticed a rise in numbers: “Thinking about the costs of a funeral is the last thing a grieving family wants to do but with the cost of funerals rising JustGiving has seen increasing numbers of people turning to crowdfunding to help say farewell to their loved ones.”

About 500 people have crowdfunded on JustGiving in the last 12 months to help pay funeral costs, with an average funeral page there raising £1,332 and a quick search for “funeral” on yields 3,800 hits.

“Aaron is my friend, he has been my friend for 10 years, it was incredibly ridiculous and unexpected when he fell ill.” Joy Boal tells me as she talks about the crowdfunding campaign she set up to help Aaron’s shattered family pay for his funeral after he died in February.

“Aaron was young, he didn't have a funeral plan. He was 36 when he died and all of his savings were used up in his last years of life as he suffered through the hell that is cancer and the treatments for it.”

Neither of Aaron’s parents could afford the funeral – his mother had to stop working to care for him in his last months and she didn’t have the savings to pay. Joy helped Aaron’s father, who is retired, and receives housing benefit to apply for a grant from the government’s Social Fund.

The Social Fund Funeral Payment (SFFP) offers some help to people on low incomes to bear the costs of a funeral but the application process is hard to negotiate alongside juggling quotes from funeral directors and coping with loss. Joy describes it to me as “a wiggly messed-up system that is impossible to navigate, especially whilst in a shroud of grief”.

The government seem to agree with Joy’s analysis. A report published last week by the Work and Pensions select committee called state bereavement support "opaque and outdated" (which is government speak for messed up and wiggly) and warned that “the funeral industry may not be operating in a way that serves bereaved, vulnerable people well”. 

The committee pointed out that the maximum award for other funeral costs has been fixed at £700 since 2003 while funeral director fees have risen well above the rate of inflation, saying that the award now “does not cover the cost of a simple funeral”.

“If the fundraising hadn't taken place I'm not sure what they would have done,” says Joy, “the fact Aaron’s mum has a job meant that even if his Dad got some money from the government the full amount wouldn't be likely”.

Joy encountered other problems while trying to help Aaron’s dad apply for the SFFP. “He was eligible to apply for some financial help towards the funeral costs, and I helped him to do so,” recalls Joy. “The problem with the financial help is that it is not granted or rejected until after the funeral has taken place, until weeks after. And you don't know how much you will receive if you are granted some help.”

Again the select committee backs up Joy’s experience, criticising a system where the bereaved must commit to the expense before having any clear idea of what if any state aid they will be entitled to. Some funeral directors refuse to proceed without payment because of the uncertainty in the process and people often have to wait for long periods to have their relatives buried. One disturbing piece of evidence heard by the committee relates to a mother who was forced to freeze her son’s body for months while she saved enough to pay for a funeral.

The chair of the committee Frank Field warned of “a return to the spectre of miserable ‘pauper’s funerals’” and urged the government to conduct a review of burials, cremations and funerals to address the factors driving up funeral director fees and curb “funeral inflation” and reduce funeral poverty.

While an “opaque and outdated” aid system and the effects of “funeral inflation” are putting even the simple dignity of a burial beyond the reach of many, more bereaved people are turning to internet crowdfunding to ask friends and family to fill the gap left by the state. Joy’s crowdfunding campaign eventually raised over £2,000 to help Aaron’s family cover the costs of the funeral and give her friend a proper send off.

“We kept the entire service simple,” says Joy, “a cardboard coffin, a small chapel, a part of a pub for the wake. It doesn't matter how simple you keep things the expense of funerals adds up. I knew that Aaron has so many friends, all across the globe and I also knew that many of them wouldn't be able to make it to his funeral – crowdfunding was a simple way of allowing people to help him with his last journey, to support his family, to show they cared.”

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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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