A pastor in a poverty-hit area of the UK has warned that grieving families are being forced to turn to loan sharks and criminals to pay their funeral costs.
Pastor Mick Fleming, who ministers in Burnley, Lancashire, described young people taking their own lives only for bereaved pensioner parents to be left struggling to access Government grants and undertakers requiring an upfront deposit of between £1,000 and £1,800.
The desparate relatives then turn to “alternative” sources to get the money such as drug dealers and other criminals, who then demand interest payments of £60 to £80 a week.
“People don’t have money, and the only people that seem to have money in certain communities are the people who earning a living illegally, so they’re easier to access.
“Poor people can’t just walk into a bank and get anything at a reasonable rate.”
He said he knew three young men who lived in the same street who took their own lives over a two-week period.
He said he thinks the situation could be improved by opening up the system to access DWP grants, and that the money should be available more quickly.
The International Christian Church Network bishop, who was previously a drug addict and criminal enforcer, said borrowing needs to be made easier for poorer people by providing smaller loan amounts with more affordable interest rates.
He said the Government itself could bring in such a loan scheme and take the funds back through the benefits system.
Pastor Mick said: “Poorer people haven’t been able to access that kind of help through capacity and also through not knowing where or how or what.
“It’s another type of poverty we’re dealing with here, and ultimately all these things end up in death.”
He said another issue is that local authorities don’t typically publicise the fact they can organise a very basic funeral, previously known as a pauper’s funeral, if a family can’t pay for it, as there are limited funds for this.
Pastor Mick works at Church on the Street, which provides services to the community including washing machines and dryers, and a food bank. The hub also provides mental health and counselling – and the minister said there has been a huge increase in mental health problems in recent years.
He said: “We’re seeing more mentally ill people living on the street. The minute you start to lose hope, there’s more likelihood of taking your own life.
“People can’t get warm, they can’t look after themselves, they’re losing their homes, they can’t feed themselves.
“It seems more of a good idea to take drugs or alcohol because it takes you away from your problems, but it only makes things worse.”
He shared one harrowing story of a man with schizophrenia and a personality disorder who messaged him to say “Will you do my funeral?”, and who then tried to take his own life.
Pastor Mick went to visit him in hospital afterwards and he said it was like “going back to Charles Dickens’ time”.
He said there were some 400 people in the accident and emergency department with trolleys on the corridors. The man was there for two days before he got a mental health bed.
Pastor Mick said: “If I hadn’t been encouraging him, just being a friend to him, he probably wouldn’t have stayed.
“He probably would have left and took his own life. That is part of the problem. I don’t blame the doctors and the nurses, that’s just how it is.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “Navigating the loss of a loved one is never easy, and we recognise the financial impact it can bring.
“That is why our Bereavement Support Payments are available for people whose partners have passed away, as well as Funeral Expenses Payments for those on income related benefits who are unable to cover the full cost of a funeral.
“Funeral Expenses Payments can be made in advance of a funeral taking place if the eligible claimant provides a final bill or signed contract.”
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