Centre for Death & Society

Affording a Funeral


Principal Investigator: Kate Woodthorpe

Research Team: Hannah Rumble, Christine Valentine,Caron Staley

Funder: Sunlife Direct and University of Bath, HEIF


Project rationale and aims

The following information frames this project: 

  • The cost of funerals is rising year on year (according to Sunlife Direct Total Cost of Dying data 2004-2011).
  • The death rate is due to rise between 2012-2030.
  • We are living in very uncertain times where the role of the State is in flux due to public sector cuts, the economy is far from stable and investments are vulnerable.
  • Family’s disposable incomes are declining.
  • Family structures are changing – there are more single parent, single people, blended families, more mobile, work/live in different places.

Furthermore, academically the experience of bereavement has typically been regarded as a middle class problem (Howarth, 2007). Emphasis on coping, grieving and reintegration into society all assume the person has the resources to fund a funeral and time to ‘be bereaved’.

What we do know about the experience of funerals has tended to focus on (1) the activity and perspective of the funeral director (a very good paper about the tension inherent with being a ‘caring’ and ‘commercial’ role can be found in Brian Parson’s 2003 work) and (2) ritual – the purpose and function of the ceremony and how this enables people to ‘move on’. Very little work beyond Drakeford (1998) and Corden et al (2008) has considered the financial implications of funding a funeral. In particular, very little is known about state support for funerals through the Funeral Payment, which is part of the Social Fund and administered by the Department for Work and Pensions.

There is thus a big gap in terms of our understanding of:

  • The process through which funerals are purchased both prior to need and at need
  • How funeral director services and associated services are paid for
  • How the cost of funerals impacts on the experience of the funeral
  • How the cost of funerals impacts on the experience of bereavement/grief
  • How all the above is experienced by people from low income backgrounds[1]
  • How state support for funerals is accessed and administered

The question thus arises as to how the ‘system’ for paying for funerals works for bereaved people, specifically people from low income backgrounds, both at the point of need and prior to death.

Using qualitative research with claimants, funeral directors and stakeholders, this project seeks to address how the Fuenbral Payment Scheme is administered and experienced.

Project outputs and impacts

The outcomes are as follows:

Find out more about this project

Name: Mrs Caron Staley
Title: Institute Manager
Department: Dept of Computer Science
Location: Virgil Building 3.28
E-mail: cs317@bath.ac.uk
Phone: work+44 (0) 1225 386275
[1] In the context of the proposed research, a person from low income background refers to those persons who do not have resources readily available to purchase the services of a funeral director and associated goods.