FOCC Header SOUTHWARK POTENTIAL BURIAL NEEDS

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Today, the Save Southwark Woods Campaign have accused Southwark Council of religious discrimination and hypocrisy in its burial provision, breaking the Human Rights Act 1998 and its Public Sector Equality Duty under the Equality Act 2010.

 

Southwark council’s policy states: “We aim to ensure that people who have died in Southwark can be buried or cremated within the borough.”

 

But the council fails to provide any burial for two of the largest groups that bury their dead - Orthodox Muslims and Jews - at any of the three Southwark-owned cemeteries.  

 

Residents of these two faith groups need dedicated burial areas, do not wish to be buried on top of other dead people and have other burial needs specific to their religions.

 

Around three-quarters of Southwark residents choose to be cremated. The remaining quarter choose burial. Of these, almost half are Orthodox Muslim or Jewish residents who must pay privately for their own burial outside the borough.

 

The Census 2011 showed that 8.5% of Southwark residents were Muslim, 0.3% Jewish. Southwark does not currently provide for their burial needs, and the council’s multimillion pound burial proposals will not provide for them either. It is estimated that nearly half the Southwark residents who require burial cannot use Southwark's cemeteries.

 

Southwark Council now wants to give over £5.2M to private contractors to create around 840 new burial plots, a giant subsidy of over £6,000 per grave - graves that Orthodox Muslims and Jews cannot use.

 

Southwark Woods supporter Lewis Schaffer and Nunhead resident said, “I am a Jew and I can’t be buried in Southwark’s cemeteries. I made a formal complaint with Southwark this week. I don’t know what galls me more - that people are being taxed to pay for burials for other faiths while also having to pay for their own, or that Southwark says they are being fair and equal providing burial for all, when they aren't."

 

Why are Southwark Labour councillors exposing the council to risks of legal challenge for religious discrimination when fair options for burial for all faiths are available?

 

The council could invest its £5.2M budget in decades of multifaith burial provision in cemeteries out of the borough, where Muslim and Jewish residents are already forced to go.

 

 

Southwark Council no longer has a Cabinet Member for Equalities and Community Engagement, someone who might have been able to scrutinise burial provision.

 

Community group and Southwark Burial Strategy Stakeholder Group member Save Southwark Woods (SSW) has today written to Southwark Council to register an official complaint for:

 

•  Religious discrimination in current burial provision

 

•  Failure to meet its Public Sector Equality Duty under the Equality Act 2010

 

•  Failure to comply with the Human Rights Act 1998

 

•  Developing a discriminatory burial strategy that would, if implemented through proposed planning applications, reinforce and extend existing religious discrimination

 

Save Southwark Woods has requested the council withdraw its multimillion pound woodland development plans, as they would reinforce and extend religious discrimination.

 

As the GLA states in its policy on Black, Asian and Ethnic Minorities:

 

“We cannot tolerate a city where your family origins or your skin colour could affect your life chances or the way you are treated. Racial discrimination and prejudice have no place in London.”

 

https://www.london.gov.uk/priorities/equalities/black-asian-and-ethnic-minorities

 

 

SSW’s complaint to Southwark Council is below:

 

Dear Cllr Darren Merrill,

 

COMPLAINT: SOUTHWARK COUNCIL’S BURIAL PROVISION PROMOTES RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION

 

As a community group and Southwark Burial Strategy Stakeholder Group member, we are writing to you as Southwark Council Cabinet Member responsible for Southwark Council’s burial strategy and its implementation, to make an official complaint of:

 

•  Religious discrimination in Southwark Council’s current burial provision

 

•  Failure to meet Southwark Council’s Public Sector Equality Duty under the Equality Act 2010

 

•  Failure to comply with the Human Rights Act 1998

 

•  Developing a discriminatory burial strategy that would, if implemented through proposed planning applications, reinforce and extend existing religious discrimination

 

•  Failure by Southwark Council to engage with all faith groups in the borough since 2012 over the implementation of the council’s discriminatory burial strategy

 

Southwark council policy states: “We aim to ensure that people who have died in Southwark can be buried or cremated within the borough.”

(Bereavement Services webpage, October 3rd 2015)

 

We refer you to Southwark’s own document, “Southwark Council’s approach to equality: delivering a fairer future for all” (page 6).

 

As you will be aware, burial is a requirement of Orthodox Muslim and Jewish religions, and the Equality Act 2010 protects all people’s rights to practice their religion, without disadvantage.

 

Most Southwark residents (around 77%) choose cremation. Therefore, although Orthodox Muslim or Jewish residents are currently only around 10% of Southwark’s total population, they represent as much as 40% or more of those residents requiring burial, whose religious burial needs you are currently charged to represent.

 

The Census 2011 showed that 8.5% of Southwark residents were Muslim, 0.3% Jewish. In spite of this, Southwark Council significantly failed to consult in any meaningful way between 2011 and 2012 with all faith groups in the borough, especially those for whom burial is a religious requirement.

 

As a result, Southwark has created a burial strategy and planning proposals which discriminate against Orthodox Jewish and Muslim residents, and possibly other faiths.

 

You will be aware of Southwark’s 5 year old Burial Strategy Equality Impact Assessment (Appendix D) which states explicitly:

 

“The shortage of burial space has meant that cemetery space allocated for Muslim burials has been exhausted. This means that residents observing Islamic funeral rites and requiring graves prepared in adherence to Islamic law, must seek internment [sic] outside of the borough.”

 

Yet the next sentence in the same box states:

 

“The burial strategy will allow the council to better meet the needs of the Muslim community and other religious / faith groups.”

 

In addition, Southwark Council’s Equality Impact Assessment makes no mention of consultation or potential negative impact on residents of Orthodox Jewish or other faiths.

 

At present, residents of these faiths are paying taxes to subsidise burials for other faiths, while being forced to pay privately for their own burials outside the borough.

 

The Equality Act 2010 requires councils to eliminate discrimination, not to reinforce and extend it, and to provide for all residents, without disadvantage because of religion.

 

Southwark Council has failed to meet its Public Sector Equality Duty under the Act, exposing it to risk of legal challenge. As Cabinet Member responsible for the Burial Strategy and its implementation, we are complaining to you and hold you responsible for this.

 

As the GLA states in its policy on Black, Asian and Ethnic Minorities:

 

“We cannot tolerate a city where your family origins or your skin colour could affect your life chances or the way you are treated. Racial discrimination and prejudice have no place in London.”

 

https://www.london.gov.uk/priorities/equalities/black-asian-and-ethnic-minorities

 

REQUESTS FOR INFORMATION UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT:

 

Please explain how existing and proposed burial provision “will allow the council to better meet the needs of the Muslim community and other religious / faith groups”?

 

Please explain how existing religious discrimination was allowed to become reinforced and extended in Southwark’s Burial Strategy and proposed burial plans costing over £5M, for which you are the responsible Cabinet Member?

 

Please provide copies of all documents from 2010 to the present, relating to all internal and external council communication with and about all faith groups, concerning existing and future burial provision, including but not limited to informal meetings, consultation, emails, letters, and notes from meetings, telephone calls and visits.

 

Further Save Southwark Woods requests that Southwark Council withdraw its planning applications for multimillion pound investment in new burial that would reinforce and extend existing religious discrimination by the council.

 

Sincerely,

 

Blanche Cameron

 

for Save Southwark Woods

6 SAVE SOUTHWARK WOODS LOGO

Southwark Council's burial provision discriminates against Muslim and Jewish residents

4th October 2015

Southwark Council’s Public Sector Equality Duty under the Equality Act 2010

 

Published by Southwark Council, August 2015

available on the Southwark Council website here...

 

“Southwark Council’s approach to equality: delivering a fairer future for all”, page 6:

 

The Public Sector Equality Duty

 

The Equality Act 2010 has a Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED). This consists of a “general duty” and a number of “specific duties”, which set out in more detail what the Council is expected to do to meet the “general duty”.

 

Under the General Duty Southwark Council must in the exercise of its functions have due regard for the need to:

 

• Eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act ;

 

• Advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it

 

• Foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.

 

In practical terms this means:

 

• Removing or minimising disadvantages suffered by people due to their protected

characteristics.

 

• Taking steps to meet the needs of people from protected groups where these are

different from the needs of other people.

 

• Encouraging people from protected groups to participate in public life or in other

activities where their participation is disproportionately low.

 

 

“Humans Rights Act 1998

 

As a council, we will believe that citizens can become stronger through the practice and respect of human rights with the belief that all citizens in Southwark are treated with fairness, respect, equality, dignity and autonomy. The Humans Rights Act 1998 aims to give greater effect to rights and freedoms guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention). We will comply with the Human Rights Act when providing services or making decisions.”

 

 

Page 6, “Southwark Council’s approach to equality: delivering a fairer future for all”, published August 2015, Southwark Council

Percentage of burial provision for Orthodox Muslim or Jewish residents in Southwark Council's new multimillion pound burial spending plans?

 

None.

 

Illustrations are based on figures from 2011 Population Census and Southwark's own public consultation 2011-2012