Bereaved parents in nine local authorities across Scotland, including three in the Lothians, will be the last in the UK to be asked for money to bury their children, after Theresa May said the practice would end in England.
Opposition parties called on the Scottish Government to take action to end fees for the burial of children to ease financial pressure on families dealing with “unimaginable loss”.
It comes amid growing concern at rising cost of funerals, which forces thousands of families across the UK to accept paupers’ funerals for their loved ones – without any ceremony and sometimes in unmarked or shared graves.
The Prime Minister’s announcement follows a campaign by Carolyn Harris, the Labour MP for Swansea East, who was forced to take out a £700 loan and get donations from neighbours after her son Martin was killed in a road accident in 1998.
Around 4350 children under the age of 18 die in the UK every year. In England, their burial fees will be covered by a £10 million annual fund, starting in the current budget year.
In Scotland, Holyrood will take control of the funeral payment benefit from 2019, promising to replace it with a system that is quicker and easier to understand. However, the Scottish Government’s Funeral Costs Plan published last year does not make any specific commitments on reducing the cost of children’s funerals.
Neighbouring councils have significant variation in the amount they ask parents to pay for a child’s burial. Midlothian charges £435.50 in interment charges for children between five and 18, while West Lothian charges £114.31 for those between the ages of six and 18. Meanwhile, East Lothian asks for £35 for under-fives, and £89 for under-18s.
Alexander Stewart, Conservative shadow local government minister, said: “The Prime Minister’s intervention to scrap burial fees for parents who have suffered the loss of a child will be broadly welcomed.
“No family going through such a traumatic experience should have to worry about funeral costs. The SNP government should follow the lead of the Conservatives at Westminster and explore the establishment of a similar fund north of the border.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We have engaged with local authorities, the funeral sector and other services to find ways to provide more affordable funerals and we will continue to support innovative measures to address the costs of funerals.
“We note this announcement from the UK government – and we are already actively considering ways to further support families in Scotland suffering the bereavement of a child.”