“Goal Posts or Graves?”

Liz Emerson follows a recent report on the crisis in burial grounds to its logical intergenerational conclusion

Janice Turner wrote an interesting article in the Saturday Times this past weekend (21 May 2011) on another battle between the generations – this time between the living and the dead.

It appears that in Honor Oak, Southwark, in London, the local council is seriously considering whether a much-used recreation ground should become an overspill cemetery. “Goalpost or Graves?” asks Turner.

The reality is that 150,000 people still want to be buried each year, and, with our baby-boomers coming up to retirement, the battle between the living and the dead is going to gain momentum. The Christian custom of burial may need to be seriously reconsidered as the boomers start to meet their maker.

Perhaps we should follow the Germans and lease our graves for just 15–30 years, after which – if family are not available to renew the lease – the graves return to state ownership for re-assignment. Perhaps we should even ban burials altogether? I myself fancy a nice hot pyre on the banks of the Thames overlooking the Houses of Parliament – how about you?

The British attitude to death is a strange one, at the best of times. It is usually quietly swept under the carpet, but when it comes to burial, the rights of the dead seem to take precedence over the needs of younger generations. Burial ground or recreation ground: who wins?

But at least the pressure for burial space is not accelerating exponentially. According to the Office of National Statistics, in 2009 the age-standardised mortality rates in the UK for males and females were 671 and 473 deaths per 100,000 of the population respectively, the lowest rates ever recorded!