Southwark Council does not provide burial space for its Orthodox Muslim and Jewish residents, while using their taxes to subsidise burial for residents of other faiths.
Orthodox Muslims and Jews make up less than ten percent of Southwark residents – but are more than a third of residents who choose burial. They have specific burial needs, as many faiths do.
Southwark Council is happy to take their taxes – but not to provide a burial service for them as they do for Christians and other faiths. And the Council’s destructive multi-million-pound burial project doesn’t change that.
[ The project has the tacit support of Harriet Harman, the local Member of Parliament. In fact, as Justice Secretary in 2007, Harriet Harman steered through a new law to allow graves over 75 years old to be dug up for resale – which is the basis of Southwark’s cemetery strategy. ]
Southwark is spending millions developing Camberwell Old and New Cemeteries, clearing acres of woods and mounding over graves – to keep burying in the inner London borough. Each plot is costing the borough at least £1,000 to provide.
Southwark Councillors next plan to spend millions digging up the remains of thousands of people buried across the Camberwell Cemeteries, to rebury them and resell their graves for people to be buried over them.
This is against many residents’ spiritual beliefs and respect for others.
Southwark Orthodox Muslim and Jewish residents are expected to ‘pay twice’ – through council taxes subsidising the burial plots they cannot use, and then paying to be buried elsewhere outside the borough.
Labour-controlled Southwark’s destructive cemetery development programme, led by Council Leader Peter John and Cllr Ian Wingfield, continues this long-standing religious discrimination.
This is London in 2017 with a Muslim Mayor, not Selma, Alabama in 1965.
Southwark has a duty to treat all residents equally – not some as second class citizens.
The Friends of Camberwell Cemetery, the Save Southwark Woods Campaign, have complained to the Council about this religious discrimination.
Southwark Parks Officer Rebecca Towers responded that burial is available for all.
But this is not true. A handful of non-Orthodox Muslim and Jewish burials take place each year. But there is no provision for Orthodox Jewish and Muslim residents to be buried, even though they make up such a large proportion of residents seeking burial.
In 2011 Southwark Council got rid of the post of Cabinet Member for Equalities and Community Engagement who could have scrutinised Southwark’s discriminatory burial service.
Religious discrimination is just one more reason why Southwark must stop its misguided, wasteful, destructive and disrespectful burial project now and make the Camberwell Cemeteries nature reserves.