I couldn't have been happier than in March of this year when the Welsh government decided to scrap fees for children's funerals. Thanks to the Welsh government, parents in Wales who have to go through the tragedy of losing a child, no longer have to live in fear of the undertakers' bill landing on the mat. The Chancellor has the power to remove at least the financial pain of grieving families whom have suffered the untimely death of a child. I'm calling on The Chancellor once again, to think of bereaved parents when he's writing his Autumn Budget.
Losing a child is the single most painful experience that any parent could endure. On 5 June 1989 my eight-year-old son Martin passed away, as I explained to the House of Commons last year. No parent expects to have to bury their child, so when the tragedy happens, parents will be totally unprepared, both emotionally and financially. I remember the day the bill arrived and that fear in my stomach as to how I would pay it. The last thing any grieving parent needs in their darkest hour is the gut wrenching, anxiety inducing fear of not being able to pay for the funeral of their own child.
When the Prime Minister told me in the Commons that grieving parents can apply to the governments social fund for financial help to cover a child's funeral by filling out a 35-page document, I think she missed the point entirely. As I explained to the Prime Minister, at the darkest moment of my life, I could not even fill a kettle let alone fill in a 35-page application form. Of course, the speech I made in the Commons that day was now over twelve months ago, and the government is yet to implement any changes to help grieving parents deal with the financial burden of losing a child.
Such a tragedy could happen to anyone, and it is those without a strong support network, both socially and financially, that I fear for the most. In many ways I was lucky - lucky enough to come from a compassionate and caring community like Swansea. My wonderful friends and neighbours organised a whip-round to collect funds to cover the funeral fees, and with the addition of a bank loan I managed to scrape together enough money to pay the undertakers bill.
I fear that grieving parents with no family to borrow money from, or access to credit from a bank, will end up being driven into the hands of high street money lenders. No grief-stricken parent, still mourning the premature death of their child, can be in the mentally fit state required to make complex financial decisions. This government is risking plunging the most vulnerable in our society, in their hour of need, into a life of unshakable grief and ever mounting debt.
Although I welcome the fact that many local authorities have taken the decision to absorb the cost of children's funerals, I still fear for those on the wrong side of the postcode lottery. How can we as a 21st Century civilised society, subject grieving families to a pot luck, all or nothing system.
With the Budget looming once again, I again am calling on the Chancellor to do the right thing, and establish a children's funeral fund. All I'm asking for is a mere £10million to be set aside, for local authorities to use to cover the cost of children's funerals. Although £10million sounds like a lot of money, in the grand scheme of things, considering we have the fifth largest economy in the world, it is small change. But it is small change that could at least relive the financial burden from the shoulders of grieving parents.
On 22 November the Chancellor will be delivering his Budget to the House of Commons. I, like many other parents who have lost a child, will be watching on hoping that the Chancellor will exonerate himself and include provisions for a children's funeral fund.
Carolyn Harris is the Labour MP for Swansea EastSuggest a correction