Recently it was announced that the group of funeral funds known as the Aboriginal Community Benefit Fund or Youpla has gone into liquidation, leaving around 15,000 First Nations funeral policy holders unable to pay for their funerals.
This is a disaster for the many First Nations families who have saved for decades for their funerals, many of whom already experience significant financial disadvantage.
It is a disaster that should have been foreseen as it was well-known that Youpla was misleading First Nations consumers with deceptive sales practices long before their conduct was exposed in 2018 at the Banking Royal Commission.
We agree with CHOICE Chief Executive Alan Kirkland that this is one of the worst failures of regulation in decades and that the government has a moral obligation to remedy the situation. And we support the call by the coalition of community organisations working with First Nations consumers for government action to compensate those affected.
At minimum, funds must be made available to ensure that First Nations policy holders who have died since the collapse of their fund and those who die in coming months can have dignified and culturally appropriate funerals, pending redress for all policy holders.
Beyond this, there is an opportunity to reflect on some of the less-evident elements of the wicked problem of funeral poverty, particularly as it affects First Nations communities who sadly have far too many experiences of funerals.
Firstly, funerals cost more than they should. Families should not have to go into debt to enable their loved one to have the funeral that is right for them. As Tender Funerals we exist to offer an alternative model of funeral service provision that is meaningful and affordable. More broadly, as a culture we need to rethink the model of the mainstream funeral ‘industry’ that has reduced death care to a commodity and a transaction. We are both financially and spiritually poorer for it.
Secondly, funeral policies are often of limited value, and many people aren’t aware that buying funeral insurance is not the same as saving for a funeral. Given the cost, we do advocate that people save for their funeral. The easiest way to do this is simply to use a savings account. Another option is a funeral bond depending on individual circumstances (learn more here). But the reality is that for people in financial disadvantage, saving for a funeral is a big ask. It would take just under 10 years for someone saving $10 a week to save the bare minimum of $5,000 for a basic funeral. And $10 a week is a lot for someone on a low income. The collapse of Youpla has highlighted that we urgently need a better approach.
Lastly, it is worth pausing to consider the implications of requiring First Nations people to pay for burial. Wouldn’t it be a powerful gesture of reconciliation if no First Nations person had to pay for land for burial anywhere in this country? It may take some work to make this happen. But it would be the right thing to do.