Around 750,000 extra bereavements during pandemic amid ‘huge’ support gap – report

Around 750,000 extra bereavements happened during the coronavirus pandemic, a report suggests – but there are “huge gaps” in formal support for people dealing with loss.

The pandemic had a “profound impact” on how people have experienced bereavement, with limited access to family and friends and more formal support, according to the UK Commission on Bereavement.

Many people are not getting the right support at the time they need it the most, with potentially serious consequences for their health, education and employment, it warned.

Its opt-in survey, of more than 1,000 adults bereaved in the last five years, found that four in 10 adults who wanted formal bereavement support did not receive such help.

The commission said bereavement “is everyone’s business”, and called for Government funding so that support for children and adults can be “transformed”.

The commission was formed in June 2021 in the context of increased bereavement and challenges during the pandemic, and described its work as one of the largest consultations on UK bereavement.

As well as surveying 1,119 adults between September 2021 and January 2022, it consulted with 99 bereaved children and young people, surveyed 130 organisations and professionals, received evidence from 33 experts, and engaged with 31,000 school and college students in classrooms.

It estimates that 750,000 more people were bereaved than usual between March 2020 and December 2021.

This is based on official figures which show that around 150,000 more deaths than usual took place in the UK during this period, compared with the average for the previous five years.

It reached the 750,000 estimate by using a measure of five people being bereaved on average by a person’s death.

Its own surveys suggest that 40% of adult respondents who wanted formal bereavement support did not get any, while 37% said they did not know how to access such help.

Half of bereaved children responding said they did not get the support they needed from their schools and colleges.

Tiffany Jones, whose father died just before Christmas 2020, said not knowing “what to do and where to go for support” added to her family’s distress.

The 42-year-old, from Winchester, said: “For childbirth, marriage and any other time of need in your life, there’s support from midwives to health workers and pre-marriage counselling. But for that unexpected loss of a father, or husband it’s restricted.

“The worst, most vulnerable time of your life and there is no help or guidance unless you can afford to pay for it. It was atrocious for us.”

A woman in her 30s, whose father died from coronavirus, told the commission: “As an Asian Muslim I was constantly told by ‘support’ that I must be finding it hard to think about Christmas without my dad, but they totally bypassed Ramadan and Eid.”

The commission said if governments invested just 79p per person a year this sum could transform bereavement services, while particular attention needs to be devoted to improving support for black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.

It is calling for governments to invest in campaigns to “increase understanding and normalise conversations about death, dying and bereavement”.

New legislation should be brought forward to require that all employers have a bereavement policy, statutory bereavement leave and pay for two weeks should be extended to cover all close relationships, and all education settings must be required to have a bereavement policy, the commission says.

And it says, given the cost-of-living crisis, bereavement-related financial support must be increased in line with rising costs and extended to groups which currently miss out, such as people with no recourse to public funds and cohabiting partners.

It is calling for the UK Government to deliver a cross-department strategy for bereavement, which would enable the commission’s vision to be realised.

Dame Sarah Mullally, Bishop of London and commission chairwoman, said: “To make this vision a reality we must work together, recognising that grief really is everyone’s business.

“The sad death of Her late Majesty the Queen last month prompted an outpouring of emotion as the nation mourned our head of state.

“However, the royal family were also grieving the death of a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother.

“Witnessing their personal loss will have reminded many of us of our own experiences and those other occasions when we were floored by grief.

“We will never cure grief. Grief naturally follows the love we have for the people we lose. It is clear that more must be done to get extra care to those who need it.”

A Government spokeswoman said: “It is important that grieving families and friends who have lost loved ones have access to the support they need, and we are working with the voluntary sector, including the UK Commission on Bereavement, to assess what more is needed to provide support to bereaved individuals.

“During the pandemic, we gave over £10.2 million to mental health charities, including bereavement support charities, to support people struggling with their mental wellbeing.

“We are working with the National Institute of Health Research to investigate the barriers preventing ethnic minority groups from accessing these services.”

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