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Death, Taxes and Discrimination. Southwark Council denies the burial discrimination confirmed by its own 2012 strategy

24 February 2017

We couldn’t believe it ourselves. We didn’t want to believe it.

Southwark Council denies publicly that its burial provision is discriminatory but its own 2012 Strategy admits it.

Southwark knows that tens of thousands of residents cannot take advantage of its tax-payer supported cemeteries These residents observe Islamic funeral rites and require graves prepared in adherence to Islamic law, or have other specific burial needs and funeral rites, including dedicated burial areas and not being buried above or in other people’s graves.

But Southwark does not provide for their needs in the Camberwell Cemeteries or in Nunhead Cemetery. And the borough’s new multi-million-pound burial developments won’t either.

In public, Southwark Council denies the discrimination, saying via twitter: “Any residents, irrespective of their religious preferences, are welcome to use our cemeteries.”

This is like saying “vegetarians are welcome to eat our meat pies”.

Southwark Council@lb_southwark  Feb 20

@SouthwarkWoods Good morning. Any residents, irrespective of their religious preferences, are welcome to use our cemeteries.

But buried in the small print of its 2012 Cemetery Strategy, Southwark states:

“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.”

Southwark’s 30,000 or so Muslim and Jewish residents make up around 10% of the borough’s population but around a third of residents who require burial. Most of these residents have to be buried elsewhere – in Tooting or East Ham or Ilford – excluded from the Council burial service their taxes help subsidise.

A small proportion of Southwark Muslim and Jewish residents have different funeral rites and can be buried in Southwark’s cemeteries. But fewer than ten people a year with these burial practices are buried in Southwark cemeteries. Southwark exploits their burials to imply they provide burial suitable for ALL Southwark Muslim and Jewish residents.

“Southwark knows thousands of their residents have specific burial needs Southwark don’t and won’t serve.” said Blanche Cameron, Chair of the Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries. “ And Southwark is not planning to provide burial for the majority of these residents now or in the future – and they are still taking their taxes.”

“Maybe Southwark Council Leader Peter John doesn’t want to believe it either. He approved the burial strategy in 2012.”

“We are calling for an independent inquiry into Southwark’s burial service and for a Burial Needs Assessment be carried out, recommended by Harriet Harman the cemeteries’ MP. We can’t believe a Council is getting away with such blatant discrimination in 2017.”

Benjamin Franklin said nothing in life is certain except death and taxes. If you are a Southwark resident practising a certain faith, you can also add discrimination to the list.

The Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries are fighting to save the 100 acres of the Camberwell Cemeteries and their woods and graves and make them inner city Nature Reserves like Highgate and Nunhead Cemeteries.

For more information:

The Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries

The Save Southwark Woods campaign

Below: Southwark’s ‘new’ burial plots are costing taxpayers millions, flood regularly, are over thousands of poor people’s graves and don’t cater for around a third of Southwark residents who seek burial by faith.

Southwark's 'new' burial plots
Peter John

Above: Southwark Council Leader Peter John, responsible for mass grave exhumation and wasteful, unaccountable, destructive, discriminatory and disrespectful burial servce.

Below: Southwark Council’s tweets this week to The Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries @SouthwarkWoods

Bottom: Local MP Harriet Harman championed the UK law to sell people’s graves off for new burial plots and then made her own Camberwell Cemeteries the test case. But even she recommends a Burial Needs Assessment for Council burial strategies.

Southwark Council's tweet
Southwark Council's tweet
Harriet Harman QC MP