UK funeral prices to be probed

flowers on coffin Image copyright Getty Images

The high cost of funerals is to come under scrutiny, with two separate reviews being launched.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is reviewing funeral costs, “to ensure that people are not getting a bad deal”.

Meanwhile, the Treasury is focusing on concerns over pre-paid funeral plans.

Consumer groups have complained that people who pay for their funerals in advance could find their relatives face extra costs after they die.

The Treasury is considering a move that would mean tougher regulation of pre-paid funerals and is opening a consultation process.

‘Challenging time’

The CMA said that because of the Treasury’s separate action, it would not examine the pre-paid funerals sector.

Instead, it will look into the cost of funerals in general. It wants to ensure that people have clear information on prices and services and get a fair deal on cremation fees.

The average cost of a funeral in 2017 was nearly £3,800, the CMA said.

Many plans do not cover costs such as embalming, limousines, a funeral service, a wake, burial plots or memorial stones.

In some cases, families are left having to find an extra £2,000, even though they expect such items to be included.

Funeral costs broken down

Image copyright PA

Were you to buy the parts of a funeral separately, rather than as a plan, these would be the typical costs – although they can vary significantly in different parts of the UK:

Moving deceased to Chapel of Rest £99; hearse and chauffeur £315; coffin £275 to £1,500 or more; minister or officiant fee £148; funeral director’s professional fees £1,000 to £1,500

Cremation costs: Cremation fee £660; cremation urn £200; ash plot £450; doctor’s fees (not payable in Scotland) £164

Burial costs: Interment fee (grave-digging and backfilling for a single depth grave) £150 to £1,734; burial plot cost £280 to £5,000 or more; stone memorial £800 to £1,200 or more

Optional costs: Embalming £136 to £165; limousine and chauffeur £305; flowers £151; order of service sheets £72; church service £98 to £149; catering £397

Source: Fairer Finance

‘Challenging time’

Daniel Gordon, senior director of markets at the CMA, said: “People can understandably be very emotionally vulnerable when planning a funeral.

“We therefore think it is important that – at what can be a particularly challenging time – the process is made as easy as possible.”

The CMA intends to publish an interim report in six months’ time, with a final report coming six months after that.

The Treasury is considering a suggestion from consumer group Fairer Finance that the Financial Conduct Authority should play a role in regulating pre-paid funeral plans.

“This announcement is only the start of the process, but it sends a clear message to those companies who are not acting responsibly that now is the time to clean up or exit the market,” said James Daley, managing director of Fairer Finance.

“People who buy funeral plans are not around to measure delivery against their expectations, which is why it is so important there are clear rules around how companies must behave.”

At present, regulation largely comes under the Funeral Planning Authority (FPA), which has limited powers to punish abuses.

The FPA said that it was confident the review would prove the effectiveness of its work. Regulation by others would lead to less choice, higher costs and “a less dedicated oversight of the market”, it argued.

“We continue to raise awareness among customers about how important it is to buy a funeral plan from an FPA registered provider. Only these providers will have undergone stringent checks and will be operating to an agreed set of standards, designed to protect the customer,” it said.

Image copyright Getty Images

In April, one funeral services firm, Dignity, said more of its customers were opting for budget funerals, with a standard-issue coffin and no frills.

But the company said “simple” funerals represented only 15% of its services, less than it had expected after it slashed prices earlier this year.

In January, the firm announced it was cutting the cost of its “simple funeral” option from £2,700 to £1,995 in England and Wales (£1,695 in Scotland) in the face of increased competition.

Dignity’s head of insight, Simon Cox, welcomed the Treasury’s consultation, saying: “It is excellent news that the government has decided to do something about mis-selling in the funeral plan sector.

“Our research has shown that bad practices like persistent and pushy cold-calling are rife among firms that have no oversight from a regulatory body.”

However, Dignity’s share price fell 14% following the Treasury and CMA announcements.

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Trump election shortens US Thanksgiving family dinners

Trump Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption President Trump was elected after a tight and divisive race

Researchers say that Thanksgiving visits to family members in 2016 were significantly shorter due to greater political polarisation after President Trump’s election.

Anonymous cell phone data on 10 million users was combined with voting records to establish voter movements.

The team found that electors cut the time spent with political opponents by up 30-50 minutes compared to 2015.

Voters exposed to widespread political TV ads spent even less time on visits.

The traditional US Thanksgiving holiday visit and dinner is one of the more widely observed rituals in American life, drawing together young and old family members often from distant locations.

However Thanksgiving dinners can also be awkward especially with greater political polarisation in the US in recent years.

The authors were inspired to carry out this study after suffering “uncomfortable and politically divisive” Thanksgiving dinners themselves in 2016 and having had many anecdotal accounts of similar experiences.

Image copyright Keith Chen/Ryne Rhola

Rather than carry out a survey where people might fail to recall the exact times of their Thanksgiving visits, the researchers decided to trust in anonymous cell phone location data of 10 million users merged with precinct level voting records.

When this method was used to model the actual national result of the election it was found to be highly accurate, predicting a share of 0.516 for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, which was very close to the vote share she received of 0.511.

To test the length of the Thanksgiving visits, each of the voters was given a weighting depending on how their home area had voted. When these phone users visited areas that had voted differently from them for the family get-together, the researchers found that the visits lasted 30-50 minutes less than the average visit of 4.2 hours in 2015, when there was no election.

Republican voters visiting Democratic family members cut their encounters by 50-70 minutes while Democrats cut their visits by 20-40 minutes.

“We focussed on Thanksgiving, which is this fascinating natural experiment where many people travel great distances and you get this great experiment in political mingling,” author Prof Keith Chen from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), told BBC News.

“In San Francisco, you saw zero time lost, because basically you can’t find a Republican to eat with, but in Santa Monica, near Los Angeles, a lot of residents eat with people from Orange County – one of the most conservative areas in the US – so it’s interesting that you see people travel actual distances and great political distances over the Thanksgiving break.”

The researchers also looked at data from voters travelling from regions where people were exposed to large amounts of political advertising. These voters spent even less time with their relatives.

“If you lived in Florida, in Orlando for example you got more than 20,000 political ads over the election season, so it’s a big treatment,” said Prof Chen.

“What we see is that the Thanksgiving dinner shortening is three times higher in these areas than ones that didn’t – so we looked at those areas in 2015, when there wasn’t an election and before the drug of political advertising was administered, so that really nailed if for us as a political effect.”

Image copyright Keith Chen/Ryne Rohla

The study says that overall, an estimated 33.9 million person-hours of cross-partisan discussion and debate were eliminated in 2016.

The authors speculate that this creates a feedback mechanism by which partisan segregation further reduces opportunities for close cross-party conversations.

They say that families spending less time together at thanksgiving is a symptom of “decline in social capital”, by which they mean the way in which values like trust and co-operation are eroded as people participate less in civic activities.

“Some people don’t see losing dinner with relatives as a particularly large cost,” said co-author Ryne Rohla, from Washington State University.

“I’ve talked to people who are, ‘well, so what?’ Personally I think it is concerning. To me it’s a symptom of a broader decline in the social fabric of the United States.”

The study has been published in the journal Science.



Trade war looms as Trump imposes steel tariffs

Donald Trump Image copyright Getty Images

Europe, Canada and Mexico are planning retaliatory moves after President Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminium imports to the US.

The European Union issued a 10-page list of tariffs on US goods ranging from Harley-Davidson motorcycles to food products.

It also plans to challenge the move at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Mr Trump claimed the tariffs would protect US steelmakers, which were vital to national security.

French President Emmanuel Macron called Mr Trump to tell him the tariffs were “illegal” – a term echoed by Bernd Lange, chair of the European Parliament’s international trade committee.

The MEP hoped a trade war could be avoided but warned that Mr Trump’s action demonstrated the US president was “not willing to stick to the rules”.

Germany’s Economy Minister, Peter Altmaier, hoped a decisive EU response would make Mr Trump reconsider his decision.

UK International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said the 25% levy on steel was “patently absurd”, adding: “It would be a great pity if we ended up in a tit-for-tat trade dispute with our closest allies.”

Barry Gardiner, the Labour shadow trade secretary, told the BBC’s Today programme the US measures were “based on a lie”, adding the UK should not be “bullied by the president … we believe in a rules-based system and Trump doesn’t”.

Gareth Stace, head of trade body UK Steel, said the tariffs were “no way to treat your friend” and called on the government to safeguard the industry’s 31,000 jobs.

Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, said the US move was “totally unacceptable” and rejected the claim that his country posed a national security threat to America.

Canada plans to impose tariffs of up to 25% on about $13bn worth of US exports from 1 July. Goods affected will include some American steel, as well as consumer products such as yoghurt, whiskey and coffee.

Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said his country was planning new duties for imports of steel, pork, apples, grapes, blueberries and cheese from the US.

Opposition to the tariffs was also voiced by prominent Republicans. House Speaker Paul Ryan, the most influential Republican in Congress, said the move “targets America’s allies when we should be working with them to address the unfair trading practices of countries like China”.

What do the US tariffs mean?

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The EU has threatened “all necessary measures” in response

Mr Trump first announced plans for the tariffs in March, but granted some exemptions while countries negotiated.

On Thursday, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said talks with the EU, Canada and Mexico had not made enough progress to warrant a further reprieve, meaning tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium have now come into effect.

They apply to items such as plated steel, slabs, coil, rolls of aluminium and tubes – raw materials that are used extensively across US manufacturing, construction and the oil industry.

Mr Ross said the president could lift the tariffs or alter them at any time: “We continue to be quite willing and indeed eager to have discussions with all those parties.”

On 18 May the EU told the WTO it planned to impose counter measures affecting goods worth almost €3bn. If approved by the 28 member states, the sanctions will come into effect in mid-June.

  • Allies retaliate with levies on jam, lamps and sleeping bags
  • Four reasons Trump is hanging tough on trade

What will the economic effect be?

Canada, Mexico and the EU together exported $23bn (£17bn) worth of steel and aluminium to the US in 2017 – nearly half of the $48bn of total steel and aluminium imports last year.

European firms have said they fear lower US demand for foreign steel will divert shipments to Europe.

Analysts at IHS Markit expect the effects to be distributed across a wide range of markets, limiting the effect on steel prices outside the US.

That leaves America to bear the brunt of the economic impact, which economists say will appear in the form of higher prices and job losses – as many as 470,000 by one estimate.

Steel prices in the US have already risen due to the uncertainty and may increase as the tariffs hit imports.

Consumers outside the US could see prices of some goods fall, while those in America may end up paying more.



Mauricio Pochettino: Tottenham manager’s contract does not contain Real Madrid clause

Mauricio Pochettino spent a season and a half at Southampton before joining Tottenham

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino’s new contract does not contain a clause allowing him to leave for Real Madrid.

The 46-year-old Argentine, who signed a five-year extension with the Premier League side last week, is the early favourite to replace Zinedine Zidane.

Zidane stepped down on Thursday after leading Real to a third consecutive Champions League title.

Pochettino is not believed to have agreed anything in writing or verbally with Spurs about joining Real.

He took over at Spurs in May 2014, and led to them fifth, third second and third in his four seasons in charge.

‘Pochettino would be Real’s first option’ – analysis

Andy West, Spanish football writer

A number of names are being circulated as potential replacements for Zidane, with the most heavily touted candidate being Pochettino.

It is believed the Tottenham boss would be president Florentino Perez’s first option. He has admired Pochettino since his time in La Liga in charge of Espanyol, a club with whom Real have friendly relations, and he was greatly impressed with the London side’s performances when they went head to head in the Champions League this season.

But Germany manager Joachim Low is also being linked with the job, despite recently signing a new four-year contract.

Soon-to-be-outgoing Chelsea coach Antonio Conte is another possible option, with Frenchman Arsene Wenger, recently out of a job at Arsenal, also being talked about as an outsider for the role.



Asbel Kiprop says he gave drugs testers money out of ‘generosity’

The truth will come out – Kiprop

Three-time world champion Asbel Kiprop said he paid drugs testers because he “thought they wanted the money for fuel or tea”.

Kiprop, who won 1500m gold at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, tested positive for EPO out of competition in 2017.

The 28-year-old Kenyan alleged his sample “turned positive” because he did not give the testers enough money.

“It is rare for them to ask for money. They didn’t specify the amount,” Kiprop told BBC Sport.

“To me, I could trust them. It didn’t even come into my mind that I was in a sensitive position.”

Kiprop also said:

  • He was visited by the same testers three times that week
  • He would frequently be asked by testers to go to their houses to give samples
  • He would always be forewarned he was going to be tested, which is against anti-doping rules
  • He has since texted the testers to ask why they no longer test him themselves, and has received no reply
  • He “almost wishes” he had doped so that he could deal with the situation better
  • He believes dopers should serve a jail term

In May the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) rejected claims his sample was tampered with and that testers had asked him for money.

‘I could trust them’ – what happened?

Kiprop was tested on 27 November 2017 in Iten, Kenya, having been told the previous night that doping control officers would be visiting.

Although that is against protocol, Kiprop said he did not take it as “something serious” because it had happened before.

The AIU said Kiprop’s sample was not tampered with but said it is “extremely disappointing” he was given advance notice of the test.

He alleges a doping control officer – one of two present – asked for money before he had given a urine sample.

After supplying his sample, he left it unattended with the testers while he went to his bedroom to get his mobile phone, through which he paid them via electronic transfer.

“I have never violated the anti-doping rules or try to avoid the testers because I am sincere to myself and I support anti-doping,” Kiprop said.

“I was so confident about my sample. I never even doubted myself.

“The minute I went into my room to send them the money, probably something happened there on the table to my urine sample.”

‘Suffering like a prisoner’ – the reaction

Kiprop (left) was upgraded to Olympic gold after Bahrain’s Rashid Ramzi (centre) failed a drugs test

Kiprop denies allegations of doping and said the last injection he had received was a yellow fever vaccination before the 2014 World Relays in the Bahamas.

He said he saw the tester as a “friend”, adding they regularly exchanged text messages before tests, and transferred the money because “it’s normal for generosity”.

After being told on 3 February 2018 that he had failed the test, Kiprop said he texted the tester to ask why he had not visited to do any further tests since, but has never received a reply.

Kiprop said his morale has been “killed” and that he is “suffering like a prisoner”, although he said he had received the support of Kenyan team-mates and Olympic champions Vivian Cheruiyot and Eliud Kipchoge.

“It would have been better if I had indeed doped. So the expression could be fitting,” said Kiprop.

“I’m being put in the category of the dopers. Good people, athletes, my competitors and opponents, they think I have been racing with them and cheating.

“This thing has brought me down to zero.

“The truth will come out and it will clear my name, my image, and the sport as well.”

Dopers ‘should serve a jail term’ – the future

Kiprop, originally second in the 1500m final at the 2008 Olympics, was upgraded to gold when Bahrain’s Rashid Ramzi failed a drugs test.

He said he remains a fierce supporter of anti-doping, and “regrets” leaving his sample unattended with the testers.

“I am repeating what I said in 2015-16 when I said that doping should be criminalised in Kenya,” he said.

“Whoever is found guilty of committing a doping offence should not only be banned for four years but should also serve a jail term. I have always stood vocal in the fight against doping and I am still standing.

“I have not disgraced the IAAF. I have not disgraced the IOC. I have not disgraced my fans. I have not disgraced my father. I have not disgraced the people that made me who I am today and of course the sport in general.”

‘The situation is clearly taking a toll’

BBC Sport’s Ade Adedoyin in Eldoret

I have interviewed Kiprop over the years on the athletics circuit and my first impression on seeing him is he looked like a man clearly feeling the strain of his current situation.

He looked anxious and more tense than I have ever seen him before a race – understandable with his reputation and career on the line. At times during the interview he also looked very emotional.

Whatever the circumstance that has put him in this position, the situation is clearly taking its toll.

He used to train in Iten, a 35km drive from Eldoret. We were told to wait in front of a parade of shops and corrugated house at 6am to watch one of the various training groups set off on a 21km dawn run.

One by one they arrived, and as the sun rose they set off down a dirt track which turned into a muddy road that even out 4×4 jeep could not negotiate. We had to turn around and wait for them at the finish.

Running is clearly a way of life in Iten. No wonder the town in the Rift Valley has produced so many champions. Although Kiprop has an altogether different challenge ahead.



The Papers: Trade ‘war’ and Poldark returns

i front page - 01/06/18
Image caption A “world trade war looms” – at least according to the i’s front page headline – after the US imposed tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from the EU, Canada and Mexico. A British plea for an exemption on the huge levies – first announced by Donald Trump in March – was rejected, the paper reports.
Financial Times front page - 01/06/18
Image caption The Financial Times says the US move amounts to the opening shot in a trade war with three of its biggest trading partners. It sets the stage for a round of tit-for-tat tariffs just days ahead of a meeting of G7 leaders, the FT adds.
Metro front page - 01/06/18
Image caption The trade war looks set to put jobs at risk and push up prices, says the Metro. The paper says Theresa May tried to dissuade Donald Trump from slapping the 25% levy on UK steel – with its headline asking “What ‘special’ relationship?”.
Guardian front page - 01/06/18
Image caption The Guardian highlights the impact the US decision has had already – saying European and Canadian leaders reacted swiftly and angrily. The announcement sent shudders through global financial markets, it reports.
Times front page - 01/06/18
Image caption The Times reports the plea by the international trade secretary calling on Brussels to step back from a trade war. Liam Fox did not rule out UK counter-measures but urged calm on all sides, says the paper.
Sun front page - 01/06/18
Image caption With the headline “Red Rom throws his toys out of the Prem” and a mocked-up picture of Roman Abramovich as a baby, the Sun leads on the decision by the Chelsea owner to put the redevelopment of the club’s Stamford Bridge stadium on hold. The paper says the Russian billionaire turned his back on the UK after being caught in a wrangle over his visa renewal.
Daily Mirror front page - 01/06/18
Image caption The Daily Mirror gives over more than half of its front page to a photo of a bare-chested Aidan Turner in the new series of the BBC’s Poldark – with its headline noting “he still can’t afford a shirt”. Its lead story reports claims the Conservatives accepted a £50,000 donation from a banker with links to President Putin on the day Theresa May was condemning Moscow over the attack on a former Russian spy in Salisbury.
Daily Mail front page - 01/06/18
Image caption The same picture of Aidan Turner appears on the front of the Daily Mail, with the image also inspiring a comment piece from Jan Moir, wondering “why is it OK for women to ogle men?”. The Mail’s main story reports comments from the head of Ofsted that some children are starting school unable to speak properly or dress themselves.
Daily Telegraph front page - 01/06/18
Image caption The Daily Telegraph leads on US research into a blood test that is able to detect 10 types of cancer several years before a person falls ill. The breakthrough is being hailed as a “holy grail”, it reports, with the head of the NHS saying it could be available in the UK within five years. Aidan Turner is also on its front page, and the Telegraph notes that when a similar image was used to promote the period drama in 2015, the actor took issue, declaring “it’s not a stripper show”.
Daily Express front page - 01/06/18
Image caption An NHS nurse with terminal cancer is on the front of the Daily Express after the paper’s readers pledged £90,000 to allow her to buy drugs not available on the health service. Laura Harris, 43, from Barnstaple, says the generosity is allowing her precious extra moments with her family.

The US imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from the EU, Canada and Mexico is the main story for several papers.

“US pushes allies to brink of trade war”, is the headline in the Guardian.

For the i, it’s “World trade war looms as Trump hits allies with tariffs”.

Image copyright Getty Images

For the Times, there is nothing good to be said of it. It will damage economic relations between the US and three of its biggest trading partners, but also harm the US economy by raising prices of imports.

In the Telegraph’s view, industrial protectionism may be popular with Trump supporters, but it is ultimately self-defeating.

The Daily Mirror says Brexiteers need to explain how easily we will be able to stand up to US bullying once we leave the EU – and whether they still believe we can get a favourable trade deal from a protectionist president.

The Financial Times says the decision sets the stage for a round of tit-for-tat tariffs among some of the world’s largest economies just days ahead of the G7 summit in Canada.

In Canada, the Vancouver Sun reports that Ottawa is imposing its own tariffs on a long list of US products that includes everything from flat-rolled steel to playing cards and felt-tipped pens.

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According to the Sun, David Davis plans to break the Brexit deadlock by giving Northern Ireland joint UK and EU status, plus a border buffer zone.

Image copyright EPA

Under the blueprint, Northern Ireland would operate a joint regime of EU and British regulations so it can trade freely with both.

In its leader column, the Sun describes the plan as imaginative, but says it fears Mr Davis is wasting his energy. Brussels will bin it in seconds, it warns.

Holy grail

The Daily Telegraph leads with a new blood test that scientists say is able to detect 10 types of cancer several years before a person falls ill.

It says the breakthrough is being hailed as a major step towards the “holy grail” of curing cancer.

US trials on 1,400 patients found the simple procedure to identify DNA markers worked with up to 90% accuracy. It could become available on the NHS within five years, the paper adds.

“Thank you!” is the headline in the Daily Express – conveying the sentiments of a nurse with terminal cancer after the paper’s readers raised tens of thousands of pounds to pay for a life-extending drug that’s not available on the NHS.

The paper says the therapy for bowel cancer has given Laura Harris – a 43-year-old mother of three from Barnstaple in Devon – extra precious time with her family.

He’s back

For its lead, the Daily Mail reports that the head of Ofsted is to warn that children are starting school unable to speak properly, dress themselves or even use the toilet.

In an address to nursery leaders in London, Amanda Spielman will highlight the rising number of pre-school children who are not taught basic speech or hygiene.

The paper says it is a damning verdict on the standard of some modern-day parenting.

Finally, a picture of a bare-chested Aidan Turner – the Poldark actor – emerging from the Cornish surf in just a pair of breeches – is on most front pages.

The Daily Mail says that ever since that scene of him scything topless in the first series of the BBC period drama, fans have been desperate for another glimpse of Turner’s toned torso.

The actor – who plays Captain Ross Poldark – is quoted in the Daily Mirror as saying of his latest exposure: “It was pretty cold. It was September and it wasn’t pleasant.”