Sunday, 6 January 2013

The Christian thing to do

In Raul Castro and Cuba – A Military History, Hal Klepak discusses three social challenges that could ruin Cuban families before the Revolution. These were:
  1. Over-stretching financially in an attempt to send a son to school and university so his new social and professional position could bring the whole family up by its bootstraps
  2. Significant illness in family, the cost of which could devastate even well-off families
  3. The cost of a proper, respectable burial for one’s parents with a fine plot, monument, feast and well remunerated priest
Everyone knows about Cuba’s achievements in the fields of education and health, but Klepak gives fascinating insight into a little-known area of Cuban social policy:
Even in the less dramatic field of proper burials, the Revolution moved soon to provide a civilized system that would take the terrible psychological and financial burden off the family’s shoulders. The state now provides the plot for a family’s loved ones. It also ensures that the deceased will be brought from anywhere on the island for burial where he or she wished at no cost to the family. In addition, the stone for the burial, while hardly monumental or luxurious, is provided as is the general maintenance of the plot in the future. Transportation for the friends and family members of the deceased, by bus or even taxi, is also covered by the state.
What would the equivalent be worth in the UK? Many people save for years to cover funeral costs. Considerations include the cost of making a will, funeral planning, venue hire, coffin, memorial cost, flowers, death notice, catering for the wake, a plot for burial and headstone. The average burial in the UK costs £3,307 and the typical cremation costs £4,954 – whilst the emotional stress caused by a loved one’s death is unquantifiable.

With real incomes falling and benefits being slashed, funeral costs will become more of a burden – both financially and emotionally.  According to the Mirror:
With the current economic environment putting pressure on jobs, incomes and pensions, it is not surprising that 17% of people in the UK struggle with the costs of arranging a funeral. On average, people struggle to find a shortfall of £1,246.  If you multiply 17% of the 552,000 deaths in the UK in 2011 by the shortfall of £1,246, funeral poverty (the funding gap) stands at £117m.
Somehow, Cuba continues to provide this service for free. As Klepak says:
Perhaps even more striking for a socialist, and for a long time even an atheist, state, the government also provides at its expense a priest for the mass and the chapel or related arrangements necessary for decent Christian burial. And when the ceremony is over, the state provides a decent if frugal reception for all who have attended the event
Cuba’s stance is even more remarkable considering the reactionary position the Catholic Church took following the Revolution. For instance, in the early 1960s, they helped orchestrate Operation Peter Pan which saw 14,000 Cuban children sent to Miami after false rumours were spread that children would be sent to Soviet labour camps against their parent’s wishes. Cuba's ability to see beyond this - and turn the other cheek - is admirable.

So what is ‘the Christian thing to do’? The subversive Operation Peter Pan or an egalitarian social policy that removes the emotional and financial burden associated with the death of the loved one? I don’t think you need divine intervention to find the answer.

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