Nicola Sturgeon has been asked to step in to stop grieving parents in Scotland becoming the last in the UK to pay local authorities for the cost of burying their children.
The Labour MP Carolyn Harris, whose family had to get a loan and use money raised by neighbours when her 8-year-old son Martin died, has written to the First Minister asking the Scottish Government to meet the cost of council interment fees.
Last month Theresa May committed to abolishing the fees in England following a campaign spearheaded by Harris, who told parliament of her family’s struggle when Martin died in an accident in 1989. A similar decision was taken last year in Wales.
That leaves eight local authorities in Scotland as the last places to charge bereaved parents for an interment, with costs reaching as high as £800. Councillors in East Lothian voted last month to end child interment fees and campaign through Cosla for government funds to stop charges across Scotland.
“Families will continue to face a postcode lottery until a Children’s Funeral Fund is in place throughout Great Britain,” Harris said in her letter. “I therefore appeal to you to consider introducing a similar arrangement in Scotland so that bereaved parents are offered equal support in their darkest hour, whether they live in England, Scotland or Wales.”
Harris said she has the backing of several SNP MPs, including Westminster leader Ian Blackford. One member of the SNP group told Scotland on Sunday that the scale of some interment charges are “disgusting” and warned it could become “uncomfortable” if Scotland is left behind.
Clare Laxton, associate director of policy and child cancer charity CLIC Sargent, backed Harris’ call and said “no family should ever have to worry about paying for their child’s funeral when they are emotionally and sometimes financially at rock bottom.
“That’s why we call on the Scottish Government to end child burial fees.”
The Scottish Government is preparing to respond to Harris’ letter and said it was considering further support for bereaved families ahead of the introduction of a Scottish Funeral Expense Assistance payment in 2019.
A spokesman said: “We commend Carolyn Harris MP who has campaigned tirelessly for the removal of child funeral charges.”
When Allison Barr’s 15-year-old son Jak Trueman died of cancer in 2015, she faced a bill of around £4,000 for the funeral and related costs.
Without help from his football team, she isn’t sure how she would have managed, particularly because she had to take time off work as a teacher during Jak’s illness.
“I would beg and plead the Scottish Government to do the same as England and Wales, “ she said. “At a time of turmoil,t, making that journey just a little bit easier would make a really big difference.”
Jak was buried in Fife, rather than the family’s home of West Lothian, where burial fees would have added £114 to the costs.
“As a mum of a child that has died, you don’t expect it, … I find it disturbing that they’re still charging for it.”