Yesterday I spent over two hours talking on 16 different local radio stations about cremations. The BBC had discovered that the cost of a cremation had gone up by a third in five years and wanted an interfaith minister’s take on this iniquitous hike in price, and they wanted it discussed during the Sunday morning ‘God’ slot.
Ten years ago pollution became a concern, so five years after that, the Government got its act together, and focused on the environmental contamination caused by incineration. So DEFRA, the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, placed legal pressure on the UK’s 300 or so crematoria, forcing them to introduce heavy-duty filters to reduce the volumes of poisonous matter being pumped into air. Apart from the pernicious glues and MDF, the worst pollutant is mercury from the teeth of those cremated. Mercury is toxic, poisoning the kidneys, the brain, affecting the nervous system, and producing problems of many kinds, some known, some unknown. It’s particularly bad for babies and young people. Mercury also travels great distance in the clouds, and then drops on us all… so we are talking about a serious public health issue… we are talking about extreme air pollution, of a dangerous and invisible kind. But the introduction of these mercury and toxic inhibitors over the past few years has resulted in a massive increase in the cost of cremations, which means that in the land of austerity, at a time of austerity, people with serious financial problems face even more tragic problems. They must tackle the loss of a loved one, as well as face up to the enormous cost of a standard funeral – between £3,500 and £5,500 depending on the funeral director one chooses.
The BBC and its 16 stations wanted to know what an interfaith minister made of this, and because this topic was dropped into the Sunday morning God slot, it seemed appropriate for questions to be asked. There was a lot of interest about other affordable options other than cremation, and I didn’t have time to discuss them all, but there are funeral directors out there trying to help people save money, and they can be found. There is something called direct cremation or delivery only, which is the most basic service possible, there is the possibility of selling ones body for science, and there is also a small grant from the Government – £700 for those on benefits. Burial, on the whole is not usually cheaper, unless one is a regular churchgoer, and the local cemetery has space. Burial is however a much more ecologically responsible alternative, and there are some beautiful woodland burial sites around. There is also burial on private land and something very new called Promessa. It is a good idea to think about planning ahead for ones funeral.
But there is another side to this altogether… we are talking about air pollution, and we are talking about everybody in this country. I reckon that air quality is something that the Government should take on as a fundamental responsibility, and the cost of keeping the air clean and our corresponding public health should not be dropped on those that are holding funerals for their loved ones. Why do we, ‘Joe Public’ always have to pay for everything? Surely the air that everyone breathes is the responsibility of the Government that taxed us all during our working lives? I commented on this during the interviews, but was not in a position to rant against this Government that wants us to pay for everything, even those institutions and welfare safety-nets that were created before this bunch of public school boys we call ”a Government” was ever born.
Perhaps HM Government should consider this: the rain of pollution falls on everyone, rich and poor alike — it does not discriminate… The quality of the air we breathe is a nation wide concern.