6,000 people had a Pauper's Funeral last year, up 26%

By Nick Sommerlad & Neil Shaw

6,000 people had basic funerals paid for by their local council last year, including a newborn baby, according to an investigation by The Mirror.

There was a 26% increase in “public health funerals” for people who died in poverty or with no next of kin.

The record total for services known as a Pauper's Funeral was up 26% year on year. A Paupers Funeral sometimes involves no service at all, no flowers, and remains placed in an unmarked plot.

Among the youngest of those who ended this way last year was “Baby Ruja”, who died on the same day she was born in Doncaster and was cremated four months later.

The oldest included 101-year-old Frances Oldridge in Southampton and 103-year-old Maxima Andreo in Barnet, North London.

Christina Martin of Wealden Council in East Sussex organised and attended 11 public health funerals last year.

She said: “National Insurance is going up, council tax will too. People just aren’t going to have sufficient cash for the funeral – it can be £4,000 for even a basic funeral.”

Using the Freedom of Information Act, the Mirror compared data from 362 out of 371 councils in Britain and found there were 5,875 paupers funerals last year, with the true total likely to be close to 6,000 – or one in 100 deaths.

The increase in Chelmsford, Essex, was 700%, from three in 2019 to 24 last year.

London was hard hit, with a 46% increase between 2019 and 2020, while Birmingham City Council had the highest number, 507 in 2020 (up 25%).

There was a 538% increase in the London Borough of Barnet from eight to 51.

Most were cremated but if it is clear the deceased would have preferred to be buried they are placed in an unmarked common grave.

Efforts are made to contact relatives to attend a funeral but - if nobody comes forward - a council worker is often present for the service, as a mark of respect.

Some are turning to cheaper direct cremations, where a body is collected and the ashes returned without a service.

Christina said: “The reason we have public health funerals is that you can’t have a dead body that has not been dealt with.

“My job is to go in after the police and ambulance have left and do a more thorough search.

“It is not always an easy job. If somebody has not been found for weeks then there will be a stain in the shape of them on the sofa or carpet.

“I might find an address book under the sofa with the next of kin. Then the bin needs to be taken out and the food in the fridge is rotting.

“I search for valuables and these are held while the search for family continues.

“If there is no family these go to the estate and are used to offset the cost of the funeral.”

Christina arranged the funeral of one woman who was found in the waters of nearby Cuckmere Haven wearing nothing but underwear and some jewellery.

She remains unidentified but publicity surrounding Christina’s efforts meant than 115 people attended the funeral.

Christina also reunited two estranged siblings at another funeral.

She said: “They sat apart and would not even look at each other, until after the service. Outside the crematorium, he opened his backpack to give her their father’s porcelain pig collection. That’s all it took and they collapsed into each others arms. That’s the power of a funeral.”

Another man, Alan, died alone after his wife had passed, and the couple had no children. Christina said: “The whole of Hailsham seemed to come out for him. His chip shop closed for the day.

“When people say how sad, well no, not necessarily.

“Just because he did not have 2.4 children, doesn’t mean he didn’t have a great life. Everyone knew Alan.”

Christina also dealt with the funeral of a 47-year-old recluse who fled his home when the first lockdown started and died in his car.

She said: “I really take an interest in the people and their stories stay with me. I sometimes feel like I’ve got a conga line of dead people behind me.”

Funeral director Jeremy Field said: “For a lot of people finding £3,500-£4,000 at short notice is not easy. With lot of people losing their jobs, that does not help.

“The Government help for funerals for people on certain benefits does not cover the costs and the number of people who qualify for it has decreased.

I think that’s pushed more people into public health funerals.”

He said: “On the day of the funeral, they wouldn’t really know it’s a public health funeral.

“You can’t have the ashes returned to you if you have a public health funeral. And if it’s a burial and you don’t own the grave plot then you can’t have a headstone.”

“I remember one funeral for a veteran. He had no-one. My funeral director was a standard bearer at the British Legion and he arranged for someone from the legion to pay respects.

“Funerals are all about gathering together. When there is no-one there it doesn’t help shape the perception that life is important.

“But people find themselves in these positions.”

Some of those who have had public health funerals

William Houston

William Houston killed himself after telling a psychiatrist he was depressed at being unable to work while furloughed.

An inquest heard he had sold his car and gambled with the proceeds in a bid to end his money worries.

But he lost everything.

He was under the care of a mental health crisis team following an earlier suicide attempt.

Crisis worker James Pullen got to his home in Newent, Glos, on July 12 to find a note saying: “I’m sorry it ended this way.”

Gloucestershire Health and Care NHS Foundation Trust said Mr Houston’s risk of suicide had been assessed as “medium”.

Andrew Ventin

Church organist Andrew Ventin died in November. Liverpool City Council said his family had been traced but “nil funds” were available. Ten years ago, Andrew drew a crowd in Chester when he started playing a toy keyboard in the local B&M store. He was carrying the sheet music for that Sunday’s service at St Andrew’ Church of Scotland and decided to get in some practice.

Church Clark John Henderson said: “Andrew was so busy playing that he barely noticed that he was starting to attract the attention of a modest, but growing number of passing shoppers, who were stopping to hear what was going on.

“He found himself being complimented on his drawing power, and being encouraged to put down a hat in aid of the store’s nominated charity – which he proceeded to do for the next little while.”

Matthew Gilbert

The former head gardener at Wolterton Park, Matthew Gilbert died aged just 47 in July last year.

Bosses at the Norfolk country house said online: “He had been ill for some time. He did a fantastic job for us... we all miss him.”

Tomasz Patrykiewicz

51-year-old Polish handyman Tomasz Patrykiewicz died at home in Southampton in May after a fall on the stairs.

His landlord Dildar Bhatti said: “He was my tenant but he was also my friend. He was a lovely man.

“I’m not quite sure but he tripped on the stairs. His housemates called me and I found him there dead. I was able to get a message to his daughter in Poland on Facebook.” Tomasz’s Facebook profile records many days out with his daughter, who he describes as “my angel”, and the final photo he posted was of ‘my little grand daughter”.

Ian Boycott

Under his stage name Tommy Fallon, county singer Ian Boycott toured the US, appearing at the Grand Ole Opry and befriending Johnny Cash.

Ian moved to Auckland, New Zealand, in 1983, returning to Staffordshire in 1991.

He turned pro in 2003 and had some chart success.

Former bandmate John Green said “live wire” Boycott struggled to quit booze and tobacco, and was hospitalised six times in 2013 alone, with minor strokes and stomach ulcers.

He died aged 66 in March last year, a week into lockdown, and Forest of Dean Council arranged a public health funeral for him.

Agra and Edgar Krauklitis

Mother and son Agra and Edgar Krauklitis died in a house fire in July last year. The pair had lived in Dover, Kent, for ten years and Adgar was a factory worker.

Four fire engines attended the blaze and a spokesman said at the time: “The exact cause is not yet known, but is believed to have started accidentally in the area of the bedroom.”

Agra’s son - and Edgar’s brother - Raimonds Krauklitis, who lives in Latvia, told the local paper he became worried after the stopped interacting with him on Facebook: “I had always hoped that they wouldn’t be dead. They were simply part of the family.

“Earlier in 2013, our older brother died and a couple of months later, our father. So only me, brother and mum remained until this event, but now they have perished.”

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