Why Can UK Government Pay £10m to Bury Thatcher if it Can’t Afford to Bury Ordinary Pensioners?

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The UK Government’s decision to spend an estimated £10m on the ‘state funeral’ for former PM Margaret Thatcher faced fresh controversy today.  We now know the government has been rejecting thousands of applications for Pauper Funerals made on behalf of ordinary UK pensioners who have died alone without money left to pay for their own burial. It seems Thatcher might be the only pensioner the UK government will support to die with dignity.

Rise in Pauper Funerals

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Those of the Thatcherite persuasion will often be heard raising the issues of the Winter of Discontent as the ultimate failure of the socialist idea of government.  The common cry goes ‘we couldn’t even bury our dead’.  Whilst bodies were left unburied due to strike in 1978, they are being left unburied due to poverty in 2013.

There was a 6.9% rise in requests for the Government Funereal Fund to bury pensioners last year. The government rejected over half of all applications made.  Even those who were successful won an average £1,217, whilst average funereal costs have risen to £3,091.

To put this in some perspective, the UK government could have buried almost one thousand pensioners who died in poverty this year, for what it is paying to bury a millionaire former PM who died in her bed at the Ritz hotel.

This is not the first year that the government has done these pensioners out of a decent send off either.  The Department of Work and Pensions rejected 34,000 applications for funereal support in 2011, a rise of 7%.

The problem is only set to worsen, with the death rate likely to rise by 17% each year for the next 15 years and funereal costs skyrocketing 71% in the last 9 years.

It is bad enough that our elderly people are unable to die in dignity, but increasingly the final years of life are spent watching the pennies and waiting to die.

Pensioner Poverty

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Today, one in every six (1.8m) UK pensioners lives in poverty, whilst a further 1.2m live on the edge of poverty.

Pensioner poverty did not suddenly become an issue as a result of ideological austerity.  Pensioners have been having a tough time for a long time.  The number of pensioners living in poverty fell in 1997/8 and again in 2004/5 but not improved significantly since.  However, the Coalition government will spend £250m less on older people between 2010-15 than was spent between 2004-5 whilst the number of people over 85 has risen by two thirds, to 630,000.

At the same time, the cost of living for pensioners has risen 25% over the last five years.

The cost of living is going up, the number of elderly people is going up, and the support given to them is going down, rapidly. There is only one outcome to this policy: rising poverty in old age.

Crisis of Care

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With the population of elderly people rising as more of us are lucky enough to make it to old age, managing down the costs of care home places and in home care, whilst ensuring the highest standards of care should be a central policy of any government.  However, the coalition policies seem to be achieving quite the opposite aim.

In the UK today over 90% of all care home provision (up from 61% in 1990) to elderly people is in the independent/private sector, after the public sector was encouraged to outsource provision in an effort to cut costs.  The same period has seen an astronomical rise is the cost of care home places. The average cost of a single room in a care home has risen to over £27,000 a year.  This is higher than the average UK annual wage (£26,000) and more than double the average annual pension income of £13,208.  In fact since 2011, care home costs have risen at twice the rate of inflation, whilst standards of care have slipped.

As a result, the homes this generation bought under Thatcher are not nest eggs for surviving relatives, but simply collateral.  It is estimated that 40,000 elderly people a year are selling their homes for just this purpose, in aims to cover the average £100,000 care home costs to cover the final years of their lives.

Whilst the Coalition plan to implement a £75,000 cap in the contributions a person makes to their care home costs, a) they have stalled the policy until after the next election and b) it won’t include accommodation costs, which are the bulk of the issue.  This is no help at all.

One might expect that for these breathtaking sums we might have the finest care homes in the world.  Yet, last year the regulatory body for the UKs care homes (The Care Quality Commission) published a damning report that showed that more than half of all elderly and people with disabilities in care homes were being denied basic care.

The report showed that people suffering incontinence were waiting more than two weeks for a consultation on their condition in more than 40% of care homes surveyed.  One might think perhaps this was some failing, but this was classed as success!  Two in every five Homes surveyed set themselves a target of 90 days (that’s three months!), to make such a basic check up for a resident.

More worrying is that the data used for the study only covers 2010, so does not even take into account the sweeping cuts implemented since. This is the sorry state of care the elderly lived in prior to the ideological austerity we have seen sweeping the UKs public services.

Indications suggest things have become worse; over 40 care homes were closed down by the Care Quality Commission last year for providing sub standard care including: verbal & physical abuse of patients, medicines not being managed safely, poor sanitary conditions and a lack of medical and nursing care.  Deaths like that of 81 year old Gloria Foster also provide a damning verdict on a privatised system of care, which simply doesn’t.

Turning Our Backs on the Elderly 

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During this period of imposed national mourning, there has been much ado about those who dare to criticise either Thatcher herself, the legacy of her ideology and policy, or the state funded pomp and military honour being applied to her send off.

The police yesterday ‘approved’ plans for those wishing to express their dissent to line the Funeral route with their backs turned to the coffin.  One would struggle to conjure a more fitting tribute, not only to Thatcher but to this current iteration of neoliberal politicians, who have so clearly turned their backs on generations of elderly people up and down the land.

Take Action

If you have elderly neighbours, get to know them. We don’t have to wait for the government to care, before we do. Exchange numbers, be kind, take notice.

AGE UK – great charity and hive of information.  You can donate, keep informed on key issues and make a difference.

Sign the petition against a state funeral for Margaret Thatcher and at least go on the record with your opposition.

Campaign to End Loneliness – an inspirational idea to create connections between the generations and put an end to loneliness in old age.

Compassion In Care – seeks to ensure that care is compassionate across the country, check out their website to see how you can support.

43 thoughts on “Why Can UK Government Pay £10m to Bury Thatcher if it Can’t Afford to Bury Ordinary Pensioners?

  1. Geez. If she gets such a great send-off, what will the Queen get?

    If it meant so much to the Conservative party to have such a lush funeral, why didn’t Cameron et al just fork it out of their own pockets?

    Really hope people use common sense to get rid of the Tories.

    • Political parties seem to have drifted a long way from the days when they were representative of their electorate. It’s becoming blatantly obvious that ordinary people simply don’t matter once a party gains power; having gained our vote with fist thumping promises and commitments there is a brief period of tap dancing whilst promises are diluted and U turns abound before the those we have placed our belief in prostrate themselves before the corporate giants that funded their rise. Politicians are no longer motivated by the common good of the country, its become an exercise in the unadulterated self interest of the individuals. Ergo anyone who professes a desire to go into politics deems themselves automatically unworthy of the post. It stinks.

  2. Pingback: Why Can UK Government Pay £10m to Bury Thatcher if it Can’t Afford to Bury Ordinary Pensioners? | nearlydead

  3. No matter how this is dressed up this should br paid for frpm Thatchers considerably huge estate. As it is, arrogance is behind the forthcoming charade. The arrogance of a serving government that do what they like, when they like as long as its nowhere near an election of course.

    • The decision for it to be a ceremonial state funeral was made by parliament and not by the government which, in point of fact, at the time was under the leadership of Gordon Brown – the arrangements being made in 2007. Nothing to do with arrogance or otherwise of the current administration.

  4. While I fully acknowledge that there may be reason to take the government to task over the funding made available for funerals I think the article would have been better if it had stood on its own findings rather than try and link it to the Thatcher funeral.

    Had, for example, the current economic problems in the UK been the situation at the time of say, the funerals of HM Queen Mother, Diana, Princess of Wales or even Sir Winston Churchill I suggest nobody would have questioned the cost.

    In other words, it is not the cost of the ceremonial funeral that is the issue but the status of the deceased – and that is a very different argument.

  5. Whilst the cost is used to suggest that the government are wasting money on this funeral this is really not the case because it is an exercise in organisation and logistics for the many different parties that will be taking part. This is essential for the smooth and efficient operation of any real life emergency or other situation that requires timing and expertise to ensure a successful outcome. As people leave the many organisations so those replacing them need this to maintain the top level of expertise by this type of ceremony. This kind of expense would no doubt be spent in a full exercise on Salisbury plain to achieve the same kind of result. Whether it is a Royal Wedding or a state funeral this will also generate income for many others from the attendance of those who wish to witness it. So it is easy to criticise the expense if one does not see the other side of the coin and the benefit of it.

  6. I think that most of the millions calculated as being spent on a State Funeral consists of salaries for all the services involved. These would be paid out anyway so the focus should be on the money expended over and above the norm. The clean-up of the streets will cost extra in overtime for Council workers, so they will probably welcome the fact that some of the money will go their way. It is rather like the wailing in the USA about money being spent on space research. The money wasn’t going to the moon, it was circulating on earth, keeping people in work and businesses flourishing.

    • Not quite sure the analogy works. The space programme creates job, subsidiary businesses and technological developments. Without a breakdown of costs it’s also unfounded to suggest what the money is being spent upon.

    • The point is that Thatchers estate should have paid the wages of all these people involved so therefore she getting a funeral at our expense.

          • [email protected] says:

            Why don’t you read the other comments ? Then you would know and not show your ignorance!

                • Freda, not quite sure what point you are making. Please be clearer so people can respond intellingently. The purpose of the comments is not to create personal argument but debate the issues of the articles so I ask you to be generous in your communications.

            • Sir I have read all the posts and replies on this thread and I made my point and stand by that. You think that everyone involved in this funeral would already be getting paid for sitting in their barracks etc?. Of course not their day would have been planned out months ago. For these people to attend the funeral their places have to be filled by others who would otherwise not have been on duty hence extra cost. Who will pay for the extra 4,000 police? is the cover for those 4,000 not covered by other PCs who would have been on leave?? All this is an extra cost to the public purse. As for a payment from the Thatcher estate will we ever find out what that payment was??. As for income generated the vast majority of it will be TV rights which the country as a whole won’t benefit from. Politicians elevated Thatcher these grand heights the public did not.

              • Well. Gary said ; The point is that Thatchers estate should have paid the wages of all these people involved so therefore she getting a funeral at our expense.
                If he had read the other comments he would know that this is not true ! Read ther comments.

                • Gary is actually right here. There is public expense of the funeral. While other PM funerals have been state subsidised, they have been much smaller affairs. Like Gary I have several issues with this 1) merit – those os us who feel thatcher’s legacy was not something to celebrate, 2) context – with critical services being cut for the sake of ‘austerity’ it seems contrary to spend even one penny on this funeral from the public purse, 3) fairness – the government rejected half of all applications for financial support for Pauper Funerals this year and 4) Ideological – Thatcher espoused free market individualism over state ‘handouts’ as she put it, so it seems incongruous to use public money to deify her, when alternative financial support could easily have been arranged.

                  • Well, Scriptonite that is only your point of view and others disagree and if you read the comments as well you would see that there are many reasons why they disagree with you unless you only want that kind of comment.

                    • Not at all, you are here commenting are you not? You seem uninterested in a difference of opinion. The key difference is, you are asking for those who differ with your opnion to pay for yours. You want a big send off for Maggie so much, pay for it. Make it a publicly funded event, expect criticism.

                • Freda I have read ALL the comments and I stand by my statement. I think I have presented my views quite well on this. If I’m proved to be wrong I will stand up and apologise. I do not begrudge Thatcher a decent funeral just not at 1 penny of taxpayers money. And I also voice my disgust at the way the whole thing has been turned into a Party Political Broadcast.

              • You said : Of course not their day would have been planned out months ago.
                Not true and if you had served your country in uniform you would know differently.

      • It has already been disclosed that the Thatcher Estate will be contributing towards the cost of the funeral. This is the normal practice with all state ceremonial funerals.

        • PM funerals are genreally contributed to by the state, but they are normally ordinary funerals with beefed up security. It is disengenous to argue that any due process is being undertaken here. If people want pomp, let’s open the thing up for sponsorship. If so many people feel so passionately, let them pay for it themselves whilst those who do not want to fund a state funeral (in all but name) are free not to. I do believe that would accord with the free market principles she so adored.

          • You are now proving what I thought all along – it is not the cost of a Ceremonial State Funeral that is at issue here but whether the Baroness should be honoured with one.

            A totally different argument and not actually relevant to the article.

            If cost really is the issue then I presume, therefore, that you were opposed to the public money that was spent on the funeral of Diana Princess of Wales. If not your argument is based on a false premise.

            • Agree with you Andy,

              Yet another blog pushing personal misguided views veiled with failed attempts at moral superiority.

  7. An excellent and timely article. It is important to note that many pensioners are not as wealthy as the recent press reports have been claiming. Having extracted money from the many poor and disabled, the coalition Government are preparing the ground to attack the benefits of pensioners – old age pension, free bus pass, ect

    I believe that we need to implement Land Taxation (to stop people and businesses from evading Tax) and introduce Basic Income for everyone to ensure that we eliminate poverty.

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