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From the Cradle to the Grave: Funeral Welfare from an International Perspective



This article reports on a pilot study examining funeral welfare for citizens from low income backgrounds. Through a review of funeral welfare provision in 12 capitalist democratic countries it seeks to inform the current system of state support in Britain, arguing that insufficient attention has been given to funeral costs as a policy issue. Mindful of the British welfare state's original ‘cradle to grave’ ethos, such attention is ever more pressing in light of rising funeral costs, an ageing population and projected increases in the death rate. Arguing that funeral costs are an issue of income support, the article draws on Esping-Andersen's threefold welfare-regime typology to situate the British system within a comparative study of funeral welfare that identifies similarities and differences both within and between the three welfare-regime types. On the basis of an empirical example, the article further argues that systems of funeral welfare reflect the relationship between culture, politics and local practice. The findings indicate that the British system is hampered by a discourse of welfare dependency rather than entitlement, which stigmatises those who need support with funeral costs at a time when they are under pressure to ensure that the deceased person receives a ‘dignified’ send-off.