Funeral director calls for more government support for sector

Paul McLean and his wife, Sharon

Paul and Sharon, of Integrity Funeral Care. - Credit: Paul McLean

The director of an Afro-Caribbean funeral firm who was born in Brent and lived in Hackney has called on the government to provide further help for the sector as the country is plunged into a third lockdown. 

Paul McLean, co-owner of Integrity Funeral Care in Covent Garden with his wife Sharon,  said support for funeral directors throughout the pandemic has been lacking.

The organisation operates within Greater London, and especially within Brent and Hackney, as a specialist Afro-Caribbean funeral service to cater to the cultural needs of clients with that heritage.

Like many industries, Paul has had to adapt to pandemic restrictions as they are imposed, such as the use of Zoom for initial consultations and for services, as well as managing the difficulties surrounding travel for family members and loved ones who are abroad.

At the same time, Paul said they were “around five times as busy as in the same period last year”, during the first wave.

He said: "It felt like 24/7, seven days a week."

There were not only issues with Integrity's own staff, but also suppliers. Paul said “the range of caskets and coffins that we normally offer were curtailed massively”, due to factory staff being furloughed and working from home.

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Paul said mortuaries in nearby hospitals were operating over capacity, meaning he had to collect bodies from Watford or Heathrow.

A spokesperson for the National Federation of Funeral Directors said the sector has “stepped up and was not overwhelmed”, but that “earning the designation of ‘key workers’ for funeral service employees was a hard-won victory in the first few weeks of the pandemic”.

Paul said: “It might have been easier had the government thought to consult the national federation at the beginning."

This would have “taken away some of the anxiety and difficulty that some families have been through," he said.

A spokesperson from the government's department for business, energy and industrial strategy responded: “We worked closely with representatives across the funeral sector throughout the response to this pandemic to inform and develop relevant guidance.

“Other support measures have also been introduced, such as business rates relief, and steps have been taken to speed up the processing of funeral expenses payment claims to support those who need it most.

“We will continue to assess the impacts of Covid-19 and keep support for the bereaved and the sector’s needs under review."