More than 250 people in South Yorkshire have had ‘paupers’ funerals’ in less than three years – dying too poor to pay for their own.
Since April 2012, 258 people have had ‘public health funerals’, in which councils pay because there is either no-one willing or able to do so.
Freedom of Information requests by The Star have revealed more than £235,000 has been spent on the funerals by Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley councils in that time.
One Sheffield undertaker said today a growing number of families are having to deal with the ‘hidden shame’ of asking for paupers’ funerals for their loved ones.
Sheffield Council has paid for 57 public health funerals, at a cost of around £1,000 each time. While most have cremations, those who are given burials are left in unmarked council-owned graves at City Road Cemetery.
The graves are numbered and recorded but do not have headstones or crosses saying who is buried there.
Michael Fogg, who runs Michael Fogg Funeral Directors on Woodhouse Road, said the funerals were becoming increasingly common. He said relatives on benefits can apply for a Government grant to help cover the costs of funerals.
But those in work and on low incomes can often struggle with the expense.
Mr Fogg said: “We have families coming to us regularly who can ill-afford to live, never mind bury a loved one who has just passed away.
“It is a really difficult situation as families are still grieving.
“At one time, they were called community funerals and now they are public health funerals. Really, it is a pauper’s funeral.
“In 1815 or 1915 you expect it, but it is a sad state of affairs this is happening in 2015.”
He said the vast majority of people who have public health funerals are now cremated, with services normally taking place early in the morning or last thing in the afternoon.
Mr Fogg said some of the funerals may only be attended by an undertaker and a council representative.
He said the issue is a hidden problem in society.
Mr Fogg said: “This is kept under wraps and nobody speaks about it because it is embarrassing for people going through it.
“Families break down and cry because of the shame. We are in a modern city. But this is like the Victorians, we are doing paupers’ funerals. It is going back to the days of the workhouse.
“Everybody deserves the same respect and care when they die.”
Coun Mary Lea, responsible for care and independent living at Sheffield Council, said: “Sometimes when people die there is sadly no one to make sure they have the send-off they deserve.
“Our bereavement services work hard to try to find relatives of the deceased but sometimes there is no estate, and no one around to take on this role. This is when we would step in and arrange a funeral service to provide the respect and dignity everyone expects at the end of their life.”
The city had 16 funerals in 2012/13, 24 in 2013/14 and there have been 17 so far this year. The council said it could not say precisely how much it had spent on the funerals because of the time it would take to retrieve the information.
But it confirmed the cost of a council-funded cremation is approximately £1,000 and the cost of a council funded burial in a grave is approximately £900.
Doncaster has held the most number of the funerals, with 50 deaths dealt with in 2012/13, 44 in 2013/14 and 47 so far this year. Between 2012 and 2014, Doncaster Council spent more than £130,000 on providing the cremations and burials and does not yet know how much it will spend in the current financial year.
In Rotherham, there have been 48 public health funerals since April 2012 at a cost of more than £34,000.
But the need for the funerals is less prevalent in Barnsley, where they have been 12 in the same period, with just over £8,000 spent.