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Funerals and the financial crisis

As the cost of living continues to rise, our research shows costly funerals are placing an unnecessary financial burden on many, with some mourners being pushed into debt. Direct cremations offer a more personal, affordable alternative.

Since 2004, the average cost of a traditional funeral in the UK has risen by 121%. Alongside steep hikes in supermarket prices and higher mortgage rates, it’s now far more likely that a death in the family could push people who are grieving into poverty.

We surveyed 500 people who’d organised a funeral in the last two years to explore how mourners were coping with the costs associated with arranging a funeral. Our research has shown that paying towards a loved ones’ funeral has become an increasing burden on people’s finances and mental wellbeing. 

Those who contributed to funeral costs paid £1,797.40 on average, and almost half of the people we surveyed were left hundreds of pounds in debt after paying for a funeral.

The 2001 Cost of Dying report from Sun Life put the average cost of a ‘basic’ funeral at £4,056. That’s before paying for things like hearses, food and flowers.  

The pressure to do it ‘a certain way’

Despite huge changes in our everyday lives, the way we organise and attend a funeral hasn’t changed significantly since Victorian times. And what made sense then – an elaborate hearse, large floral arrangements, pallbearers in morning suits – is still the go-to recipe for a funeral today.

These kind of add-ons, usually neatly packaged in a menu of progressively more costly options, are often seen as the only way to mark someone’s passing. So much so that our research, carried out by OnePoll, found that even if it meant they would experience financial hardship, 85% of people felt pressure to provide a ‘traditional’ funeral service with things like flowers, cars and catering. 

And this all takes its toll, with 62% of people reporting that they felt they were unable to properly grieve because of the stress the cost of the funeral had caused, and 43% reporting that they’d experienced debt or financial hardship after contributing to funeral costs.  

In fact, 47% had sold a sentimental item given to them by a loved one to go towards the cost of a funeral, and 68% of people received financial support from friends or family. The most common help people received included a financial gift (62%), an interest-free loan (29%) or a loan with interest (12%).

There is a more affordable alternative

Increasing in popularity over the last few years, a direct cremation is an alternative to a traditional funeral. For many people, it’s more relevant to the way they live today, and it’s a more affordable way to celebrate or remember a loved one. According to Sun Life’s Cost of Dying Report, 18% of families opted for a direct cremation in 2021, up from 3% in 2019.

A direct cremation is simply a cremation without a traditional funeral service at the crematorium. It separates the cremation from any ceremonies to mark the life of the person who has died, leaving their loved ones free to decide how and when to best say goodbye.

Unlike a standard cremation, the family do not attend a direct cremation, although many families choose to mark this day in their own way. The ashes are then returned in an urn of their choice. 

Without the extra cost of things like a hearse, pallbearers or flowers, families are more able to plan an affordable send-off on their own terms, like a simple gathering, a formal meal, a party or a picnic. 

A Farewill direct cremation starts from £895, and our Direct Cremation Funeral Plan is £1,595: significantly cheaper than the average ‘traditional’ funeral. In 2022, Farewill won Low-Cost Funeral Provider and Best Direct Cremation Provider of the Year at the AGFD Good Funeral Awards.

A more personal way to say goodbye

It's not just the lower price tag that's bringing people to direct cremations. By separating the cremation from the celebration, mourners are more able to create a memorial that celebrates the life of their loved one.

Direct cremation allows you to decide how and where you say goodbye. It means you can arrange a more personal service that’s right for you.