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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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“Grooming rings are the biggest recruiter for the far right”: Rochdale and Telford prosecutor

Senior lawyer Nazir Afzal warns the government, and communities implicated in street grooming, to do more – or the situation will get worse.

Nazir Afzal, the former chief prosecutor who led prosecutions against a child sex abuse ring in Telford, and oversaw similar street grooming cases in Rochdale, tells Anoosh Chakelian why these crimes go under the radar, and how to tackle them.

How widespread are these street grooming cases?

My involvement started with Operation Span, which is the Rochdale prosecution, in 2011. And prior to that, when I was in London as chief prosecutor, I was aware it was an issue bubbling but wasn’t getting any attention.

Obviously we’ve now got Telford, Newcastle, Peterborough, Sheffield, Rotherham, Oxford, Bristol. If anybody watched the BBC’s film Three Girls, at the very end, they list I think 16 towns and cities where prosecution had taken place.

We know that it is extraordinarily widespread. Wherever you look, if you turn over the stone, you’ll find this kind of behaviour. 

What do each of these cases have in common?

What we discovered, ten years ago nearly, were groups of men working invariably in the night-time economy, either in taxi services or takeaways or that kind of business, hiding amongst whom were these predators. They’re not gangs in the way organised crime gangs are. They’re very loose networks.

There are vulnerable young girls in so many parts of this country, who nobody else seems to care about. And what these victims need is warmth, transport, mind-numbing substances, food. And where are they going to find that? You’re invariably going to find that in the night-time economy.

I used to describe them as easy prey for evil men. They’re easy to identify, and what tends to happen is that once they’ve identified one victim, through her networks very often they’ll find others.

These men are just taking advantage of the dysfunctional nature of children’s services and young people’s services that have existed now for some time. If anything, it’s got worse, because while there is tremendous learning, the resources have been reduced.

So really good practices – like one council would have a van that would go round fast food premises in the evening to identify young girls at risk and talk to them – are cancelled because they don’t have the money to do it anymore.

People work in silence. Information was available and wasn’t shared. That style of working is part of the problem. So time and again, people are just keeping things to themselves. It’s a lack of competence on their part. It’s competence, it’s not conspiracy. Easier to blame a conspiracy than say “you were rubbish at your job”. And that is constantly something that I have come across.

The victims don’t even see themselves as victims very often. Because of the poverty of relationship education and sex education in schools, these men make them believe that they love them. I remember in the Rochdale case, one of the girls kept calling one of the defendants throughout the trial her “boyfriend”. She doesn’t know any different; nobody has taught her what’s a good relationship, what’s a bad relationship.

Time and time again, survivors have the answers. What the authorities should be doing is listening to their local survivors, and building their response and their interventions on what the survivors tell them: “This is a journey I took, this is where you could’ve intervened. This is where you could’ve prevented my abuse or somebody else’s abuse.”

There are some very, very courageous, extraordinarily strong women now more than willing to share their experiences. And we do so little of that [talking to them].

How can the situation be improved for victims and potential victims?

A lot of these victims have criminal records as a result of behaviours they were made to do – we should be erasing those criminal records. That’s the way we can rehabilitate them. I think victims need compensation for what they’ve been through. And they also need lifelong support, and that’s not being produced.

Taxi drivers in Coventry are trained in local signs of abuse; it’s part of their licensing arrangement and I work with them actually on delivering that. Why is that not happening everywhere else in the country? Why are we not licensing and training takeaway establishments in the same way?

I discovered recently that in Newcastle, they’re delivering this kind of training. Sadly, it’s voluntary. The people you need to engage with are not coming. So unless you have mandatory training for people working in the night-time economy, it’s not going to happen.

Additionally in the hotel trade, one or two large chains are doing some good work in identifying young people at risk, and sharing intelligence. Why is that not everywhere? We know that predators use cheap hotels and places like that for the abuse they carry out.

The intelligence is there, it’s just not being used. And we’re not using community intelligence either. The vast majority of victims in this type of sex offending are white girls. There are Asian girl victims too.

When I prosecuted the Rochdale gang, immediately afterwards, I prosecuted the ringleader again for his abuse of a girl of the same ethnicity as him. That didn’t get any publicity and he got 21 years for that. So there are victims from the Asian community but because of issues such as honour, shame, and the fact that very often they’re told by their families that it’s “your fault”, they’re not coming forward.

So we need to understand that there are victims out there who are even less likely to report their concerns because of familial and community pressures.

We are scratching the surface, and it really irks me that each and every time it gets in the news, it’s two things.

Number one is that it’s the biggest recruiter for the far right in this country. If you go on any far right website, they use the grooming gangs more so than Isis or terror attacks as the means by which they recruit far right activists.

So we should be tackling this, and by “we” I mean everybody, including the communities most impacted, and most implicated.

Number two is we need to intervene much earlier, but we also need to do some perpetrator programmes. There are perpetrators involved who are still in denial about their activities. There are still people out there who think “well, it’s fair game”.

How can it be prevented from happening in future?

Much more work has to happen in terms of the perpetrators and perpetrators of the future – and that, of course, involves early education.

Too often, we wait until high school to start talking about gender equality and relationship education. We should be starting to talk to them about these types of behaviours and what they should be looking out for when they’re five, six and seven. We’re just building up a problem for the future by not doing any of this.

We should have mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse. If you see someone being abused, or you perceive to be being abused, then it should be your duty to report. What the government has said recently is that social workers have come out against it. And my response would be: “Well they would, wouldn’t they?”

NGOs are doing phenomenal work in its field, so there are lots of charities and groups up and down the country trying to identify victims and potential perpetrators. They don’t get enough funding. They’re working on a shoestring.

What do you say to those suggesting ethnicity plays a part?

The vast majority of children and young people are abused within the family. We must not lose sight of that. The second largest group of victims are online. Today, you can pay pennies to watch a child being abused in real-time, somewhere in the world. The third largest group is institutional; we know about places of worship – churches, mosques – we also know about the FA and football and judo and sporting clubs, and the BBC.

Street grooming is the smallest – significant nonetheless, we’re still talking about thousands of victims. It’s smallest comparatively to the other three areas.

More than 80 per cent of child sexual offenders are British white men.

When I’ve prosecuted Stuart Hall or Max Clifford, or whatever, people never said “oh, his religion, his ethnicity”, as if that was important. It wasn’t in their cases, and they remain the vast majority of offenders.

I’ve always said the ethnicity of street groomers is an issue. We can’t pretend that’s not what’s happening.

The night-time economy is one issue. But it’s not the issue.The issue is the availability and vulnerability of young girls. The issue is the fact that they are unwanted and unloved. They get no support: the NGOs that support them aren’t properly funded, neither are children’s services. That is the issue.

But ethnicity is an issue, and I don’t think the community is doing enough. I was really pleased to see, some months ago, I was invited to the launch of the Greater Manchester Muslim community organisation, and one of their four priorities is tackling grooming. And that is rare. Most communities would rather not talk about the subject, would beat me up [verbally] quite regularly for mentioning it, and unless we tackle it, bigots don’t need an excuse to hate you, so why do we give them an excuse? Why are we not tackling an issue that can be tackled?

You can’t just generalise about what it is that might be driving these men. We need to do a great deal more research into background, why perpetrators become perpetrators, in the same way we’re trying to identify why victims become victims.

Authorities are often accused of being scared to act because of political correctness. How do you feel about that?

I’ve not come across anybody who’s scared. I get bored of this going unchallenged. These are difficult cases to prosecute. Very often, the victim treats the prosecutor or the investigator as the bad guy for trying to destroy their “relationships”. Competence was the issue – people not understanding how to bring these cases. They had to leave their tick-boxes and their normal pro formas aside.

Some people, no doubt, may not want to offend a certain community, but I would imagine they’re in the minority. The large majority fail to engage because it’s really difficult.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.