Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Funereal munificence

The government reduced Poland's funeral subsidy as part of its fiscal consolidation. From March 1, the state pays a subsidy of 'only' 4,000 zlotys, or some 1,000 euros, to those organising a funeral. That is well down from 6,400 zlotys previously. The sums involved are grave. The government will save 600 million zlotys in 2011 and then 1 billion a year from 2012. Like the issue, that's no laughing matter.

Critics might scoff at the inhumanity of a government that dares try to repair public finances by taking money away from those that have just lost a loved one, but the Polish government remains exceedingly generous.

Slovaks get just 320 zlotys for a funeral. Czechs receive about 750 zlotys. Austrians have it slightly better, getting 1,800 zlotys. All of these should be thankful as many European countries' citizens get nothing. Rich countries like Germany, Italy, Sweden, and the UK spend zero.

But you're wondering, how much does it actually cost to hold a funeral in Poland? Well, a story in the daily Gazeta Wyborcza says the 4,000 zlotys won't cover a funeral in Warsaw but it should do in the rest of the country.

Warsaw is costly. A yeoman's funeral will set you back 5,600 zlotys. That includes 700 zlotys for the coffin, 90 zlotys a day for the needed cooling, at least 150 zlotys for body preparation, 200 zlotys for flowers, 600 zlotys for a caravan, up to 1,500 zlotys for the Church and another 1,500 zlotys for the plot. Plots can be much more depending on where, rising to around 4,000 zlotys. If one wants to reserve a place while still living, the price tag is a sombre 17,000 zlotys.

The funeral business is not happy with the reduction, but they wouldn't be, would they. Giving 6,400 zlotys each puts a floor under the entire funeral business as people have every incentive to spend the maximum possible. The only loser is the taxpayer.

A dignified funeral is a fair way to pay respects to the dead, but at a time when the pension system is being gutted and other serious spending reductions are being considered, the Polish government should not be picking up the tab and the funeral subsidy should be itself buried.


  1. interesting article.
    THere was also an article in wyborcza recently , where they were pondering whether this would increase the number of dead souls on the pension roll. Basically, the assumption was that the current high level of the funeral payout was sufficient to encourage the bereaved relatives to announce to the social security office that their loved one no longer needed his pension sent to him. Apparently , families many keep scooping up the pension for years to come, costing hundreds of millions of zloties...


  2. A macabre twist.
    An addendum I had is that the money saved is really quite huge. The question would become would not it be better to, say, buy tablet computers for every kid in Poland rather than fill the pockets of mortuaries?