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Through the Family Lens: how death illuminates the modern family by Hannah Rumble and Kate Woodthorpe
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Through the Family Lens: how death illuminates the modern family by Hannah Rumble and Kate Woodthorpe

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A presentation from the BSA Death, Dying and Bereavement Conference held on 19 November 2012.

A presentation from the BSA Death, Dying and Bereavement Conference held on 19 November 2012.


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  • 1. Through the Family Lens:how death illuminates the modern family Dr Hannah Rumble and Dr Kate Woodthorpe Department of Social and Policy Sciences
  • 2. Overview of paper today• Background• The research• The findings• Conclusions• Next steps
  • 3. Background•Centre for Death andSociety•Sunlife Direct
  • 4. Funeral Payment Scheme• Social Fund Funeral Payment • Est. 1988, part of DWP and regulated Social Fund• 2011/12: 69,000 applications made, 56% success rate• Applications based on qualifying criteria (benefits)• Capped at £700 + disbursements (cremation/burial/doctor’s fees for statutory crem certs)• Average award: £1241• Average funeral costs c£3000• Gross expenditure for DWP: £46.3m (£0.4m recovered)
  • 5. Academic rationale for the study• Comparisons between cultures underdeveloped in the area of death (Robben, 2004; Walter, 2005)• Little consideration given to political and economic dimension of post-mortem practices, particularly issues of affording a funeral• In capitalist and secular societies, increasing cultural diversity and individualism = more personalised and individualised post-mortem practices, which cost € £ $
  • 6. Previous research• UK: Drakeford (1998) found economic vulnerability linked to the need of mourners to respect the dignity and memory of someone.• USA: Fan and Zick (2004) noted substantial economic vulnerability of widows and widowers in relation to funeral/burial costs.• New Zealand: McManus and Shafer (2009) uncovered a “general lack of knowledge, misconceptions, inconsistencies and misinformation on what funerals are about”, as well as lack of awareness of benefit entitlement (p. 73).
  • 7. The research• December 2011 – March 2012• Independent academic research• 2 parts: UK and international • Focus today on UK section of the study• Research team: Dr Kate Woodthorpe, Dr Christine Valentine, Dr Hannah Rumble, Caron Staley (CDAS manager)
  • 8. Further detail• Scope: to identify how the Department for Work and Pension’s (DWP) Funeral Payments Scheme (SFFP) works in terms of: • Process of application • Experience of application• Interviewed 60 participants (claimants, funeral directors, MPs, stakeholders and local authority employees)• Unexpected strand of the project: Public Health Funerals (aka. ‘Pauper Funerals’, administered by Local Authorities)
  • 9. The findings• Eligibility and responsibility• Familial relationships
  • 10. The findings: eligibility and responsibility• Eligibility criteria for FP does not reflect complex family relationships nor accommodate fluid boundaries of ‘family’. In short, the FP regulations for identifying the ‘claimant’ (the person judged responsible for funeral expenses) is based on normative and hegemonic understandings of ‘family’• The way in which responsibility for a funeral is decided by the DWP does not mean that family member who wants to take responsibility will be the one who is obliged to. (Eligibility vs. Responsibility)• Those claimants who want to pay for a funeral, but who are estranged from other family in work, can find their claim rejected leading to being left with funeral debt.
  • 11. The findings: familial relationshipsKin solidarity: reliance by the state on families ‘to do the right thing’“I think basically they [the DWP] are relying on family values. The fact that you wouldn’t want to see your mother just lying on a slab forever and a day. They are not going to pay you because they know, one way or another, by hook or by crook, you will find a way of burying your mother, your brother, your sister, your father, yes? They are relying on that, that… you will go out of your way to see that person laid to rest.”
  • 12. Conclusion: UK in context• Market led funeral sector with ever-rising funeral costs• Culture of not talking about death• Emphasis on welfare dependency rather than entitlement• Increasingly marginalised population who cannot afford a funeral at point of need• Issues with the Social Fund’s FP creates distress, confusion and funeral debt
  • 13. Next steps• November 28th: Parliamentary Roundtable• Thinking Allowed!• Publications - Our research reports are available from Sun Life Direct/AXA website:Woodthorpe, K., Valentine, C., and Rumble, H. (2012) Affording a Funeral. Final Report to Sunlife Direct.Woodthorpe, K., Valentine, C., and Rumble, H. (2012) Social Welfare Provision for Funeral Costs: an International Perspective. Final Report to Sun Life Direct.• Future research: What can funerals tell us about contemporary family relationships/understandings of kinship?
  • 14. Thank you for your time todayAny questions?h.rumble@bath.ac.ukk.v.woodthorpe@bath.ac.uk

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