Nearly 300 people have been buried in pauper’s graves in Sheffield over the last three years – with one of those given the most basic of funerals aged just 17.
In the city, 295 residents were given public health funerals since 2010, according to figures obtained through The Star’s Your Right To Know campaign.
The majority of the deceased were older, in their late 60s, 70s or 80s, with the most elderly aged 103.
Charity Age UK has branded it ‘unacceptable’ that so many elderly people die in isolation.
But several younger people were also given public health funerals – in 2010 two 23-year-olds were buried after dying in hospital, while in the same year a woman aged 25 was also cremated by Sheffield Council. The 17-year-old was given a council burial last October after losing contact with his family.
The cost of the funerals – given by Sheffield Council and hospitals to people with no contactable relatives or money to pay for a burial – totalled almost £150,000.
Coun Isobel Bowler, of Sheffield Council, said: “It is obviously extremely sad that some people die without any known living relatives to celebrate their lives at their passing.
“Our staff in bereavement services work hard to trace relatives of the deceased but sometimes are unable to find anyone. When this happens we provide a dignified funeral service giving the due respect everyone deserves at the end of their lives.”
Michelle Mitchell, director general of charity Age UK, said: “It is terribly sad to hear so many people are not only dying in poverty, but are dying alone, with no family or friends to organise their funeral.
“It is unacceptable that struggling on a meagre income, often in loneliness and isolation, is a way of life for thousands of older people in 21st century Britain.”
Coun Mary Lea, cabinet member for health, care and independent living, said: “Isolation, especially for older people, is not something which anyone wants, least of all us. We know isolation has a detrimental effect on people’s health and wellbeing.
“We work with partners in the city, in particular the voluntary sector, and it is through this that people who are isolated and poor health can be identified.”
Ian Eady, bereavement services manager at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, said: “We feel it is important to continue the dignity and respect we show to all our patients after they pass away. We therefore make every effort to contact relatives in order for them to make funeral arrangements.
“On the rare occasion we are unable to contact a relative, and the patient has not left any monies to cover the cost of a funeral, our bereavement team will arrange a dignified hospital funeral. The team ensures the patient’s wishes are honoured wherever possible, including taking burial or cremation preferences into account.”
A case is referred to the council by the South Yorkshire coroner with a copy of the police report if relatives are not initially found. Council officers make a search of the dead person’s property to try to find details of next of kin, and work with estate researchers in the hope of tracing relatives.
A dead person given a pauper’s funeral receives a basic wooden coffin, transport to the funeral directors, crematorium or cemetery and a £30 flower arrangement. Obituaries are placed in the local press, and cremation or burial costs are paid, as well as the minister’s fee.
Dedicated areas are provided at Sheffield Council’s cemeteries - City Road and Hutcliffe Wood - where the remains are buried, but there are no headstones or crosses visible.
Instead, staff keep a numbered plan which they are able to refer to if visitors ask to see a grave.
The average cost of a pauper’s funeral is about £1,000. In some cases the costs can be recovered from the deceased’s estate – but if there is no money available, the taxpayer meets the bill.