The cost of dying is a grave concern

fatal mistake? ... South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck sparked controversy this week after claiming that poverty is driving people to bury relatives in their gardens.
fatal mistake? ... South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck sparked controversy this week after claiming that poverty is driving people to bury relatives in their gardens.

DEATH is an expensive business, and South Tynesiders are not leaving it late to prepare for the cost, a Gazette straw poll has found.

We headed out onto the streets of South Shields to find out whether townsfolk were concerned about the perceived escalating costs of your average funeral.

Our survey followed town MP Emma Lewell-Buck proposing a Parliamentary bill calling for a review of funeral costs and for providers to offer an affordable service.

But her intervention was overshadowed by her claim that funerals were becoming so expensive that some people were burying relatives in the back garden.

That suggestion has been condemned by some in the industry as far-fetched.

And while shoppers the Gazette approached accepted the premise of the MP’s comments, they criticised the example she gave.

“I think it was a big mistake,” said retired shipyard fitter Ken Chapman, 67, of Boldon. “People are not being buried in the garden.

“There is no record of anyone in South Tyneside being buried in a garden, and I think it was a dreadful remark, a big mistake.”

Mr Chapman, a part-time worker at Asda’s Boldon petrol station, said he has put aside £4,000 for his own funeral, but he is worried that it might not be enough.

He added: “It was a pity the MP used that example because it overshadowed a valid point.

“The £4,000 is on the assumption that I’ll live at least another 10 years. Who knows how much costs will escalate?

“I just don’t want to leave my funeral costs as a burden for my two daughters to have to face.”

Ex-businessman Jim Thomas, 72, of Porlock House in Jarrow, has insurance of £2,800 to cover his funeral costs.

He said: “I only sorted that out a couple of months ago. You need to be prepared, and you don’t want to burden your family.

“It’s hard because I’m on a basic pension after selling the house a year ago when my wife died.

“I’m just living on my capital, and that’s almost gone.”

Fellow Porlock House residentPeter Emmerson, 75, a retired prison officer, knows of one home burial. He said: “I lived on the Isle of Wight for many years, and I was asking a friend why she didn’t sell up, and she said she couldn’t because of her mum.

“I said ‘I didn’t realise your mum lived with you’, and she told me she was in the garden. I couldn’t believe it, but it was all legal, and she had applied for a licence.”

Kathleen Winter, 81, of Ambleside Avenue, South Shields, condemned Mrs Lewell-Buck’s remarks, saying: “There is absolutely no question of burying anyone in the back garden. Her comment was way over the top.”

Angela Lishman, 68, of Westoe Village, said: “There is support out there for people who are destitute and can’t afford a burial.

“I suppose it was once what was known as a pauper’s burial, but today there are authorities you can contact for help.”

Joe Grant, 86, of Gosforth Avenue, South Shields, knows how expensive a business death can be, having cared for his dementia-stricken wife Blanche for over a decade before she died in 2012.

He said: “I probably spent £4,500 on Blanche’s funeral and headstone.

“I didn’t think twice about it because I loved her.

“Everyone deserves a good send-off.”

Twitter@shieldsgazpaul