Heartbreaking new data reveals that more than a thousand people have been buried or cremated in so-called ‘pauper’s funerals’ in Yorkshire in the last five years, including four young babies.
Bradford, Doncaster and Wakefield councils have funded or partially funded four children’s funerals between them. Bradford accounts for two of these funerals while Doncaster and Wakefield have one each.
Bradford also has the highest number of pauper’s funerals, which are officially known as public health funerals, in Yorkshire with 288 of the region’s 1232 funerals – roughly a quarter.
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They happen when someone has died alone with no next of kin, or when there are no family or friends able to willing to arrange a funeral, perhaps because of the cost. By law councils have to provide the services but there is a lot of flexibility around what exactly these funerals look like. They are often ‘no-frills’ services with no flowers or obituaries and can see people buried in unmarked ‘common’ graves shared with other people.
The four children whose short lives were commemorated with public health funerals were all babies, including a baby girl who was found at a recycling plant in Bradford in 2020. Children’s funerals are now free since legislation brought in in 2019.
The newborn baby girl was found wrapped in a towel depicting the Spanish island of Fuerteventura at a waste recycling site in Bradford in 2020 and was believed to be stillborn. Despite the police searching for the mother of the child no one came forward and the police were unable to find her parents.
Staff at the recycling plant were reportedly devastated by the tragedy and donated a bear made of segments of their uniforms which was then buried with the baby. A service for all faiths was held with the workers and representatives of the police present.
Bradford Council said they had funded one other funeral for a child in recent years – a baby boy after the case was referred to them by the coroner. The funeral was held in April 2017.
“The second was a baby girl who was found at Bowling Back Lane Household Waste Recycling Centre in August 2020. The council organised a funeral in May 2021 at Bradford Cathedral, for the baby whose family were not found. Co-op Funeral Directors supplied their services free of charge and Bloom florist in Bradford donated flowers,” the council added.
Wakefield Council said they do not charge for children’s funerals, in line with government legislation, but they have “discretion in some circumstances” to cover “additional” funeral costs.
There are a number of reasons the council may fund or partially fund a public health funeral for someone. In Doncaster in 2021, the majority of these fell under the ‘no-one willing/able’ category while a number of others had no next of kin or their family was unable.
Bradford, with the highest number of funerals, also had the highest jump between the pre-pandemic period and the pandemic period. In 2019 there were 52 public health funerals in the city while in 2020 this jumped to 77 in 2020 and stayed high, at 74, in 2021.
However, despite tens of thousands of people dying during the Covid-19 pandemic across Yorkshire, the region, the number of public health funerals in 2020 was only around 30 higher than 2018, at 266 to 294 respectively.
Not every council stores information for the cause of death for people receiving public health funerals but in Wakefield, the data shows that four public health funerals were held for people who died of Covid-19 in 2020.
Similarly, not all councils store data on what type of funeral has been held but figures show most involved cremations rather than burials. In Kirklees there have been 92 public health funerals over the past five years, 89 of these were cremations and only three were burials.
A law change in 2019 means that families no longer have to pay for a child’s burial or cremation – for any child under 18 or stillborn after the 24th week of pregnancy.
A spokesperson for Bradford Council added: “Before this legislation a burial or cremation for foetal remains, a stillborn baby or child up to 18, who was a resident of Bradford District, was already free of charge. But, the cost of grave space was chargeable.
“We are able to claim back the costs of children’s funerals from the Ministry of Justice.”