Overhaul bereavement support in the wake of the pandemic, says new report
A new report by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), published today, recommends an overhaul of bereavement support in the UK in the wake of the pandemic.
The report identifies longstanding gaps in support for bereaved people, and concludes that these have only been exacerbated and made worse by the pandemic.
Key recommendations in the report include overhauling support for bereaved people, preparing the funeral sector for future emergencies (e.g. increasing the number of crematoria, securing access to PPE), reviewing employer practices around compassionate leave, and designating funeral staff as key workers from the outset in future crises.
Based on in-depth interviews with bereaved people and funeral staff and engagement with religious, policy and bereavement stakeholders, the research found the pandemic had impacted on every aspect of bereaved people’s journeys, contributing to a ‘deepening of regret’ among bereaved people in the UK.
The research also highlights the key role of funeral staff as a source of support for bereaved people during the pandemic, and the need to improve informal and formal support for people in the funeral industry.
Dr Priya Khambhaita, Co-Director of Health at NatCen, said: “The specific circumstances of the pandemic – social isolation, anxiety about COVID-19, financial difficulties and government restrictions – all compounded the difficulties typically experienced by bereaved people. Grief was prolonged and mourning was disrupted, creating a need for greater and more robust support mechanisms, and exposing gaps that had existed in this provision even before the pandemic. In the wake of the pandemic, it is clear that bereaved people require long-term, ongoing informal and formal support and this should be built into the design and delivery of services.
There is a need to overhaul wider support for those that have been bereaved, and employers may need to rethink company policies around compassionate leave and ongoing wellbeing support for staff. Where different communities are more likely to live in extended households or operate in tighter family networks, or there are traditionally longer periods of mourning, there are important equality and diversity factors to consider to support people more effectively.”
Click here to read the full report.
- In the context of government guidance which many bereaved people found unclear, funeral staff played a vital role by providing up-to-date knowledge on guidance and restrictions, and adapting their services as much as they could to meet families’ needs.
- The impacts on bereaved people ranged from not being with loved ones in a health or social care setting to spend their last moments together, to not being able to dress or comb the deceased person’s hair in preparation for the funeral, to limits on channels for voicing their grief or celebrating the life that was lived.
- Similarly, traditional rituals and religious customs were equally either difficult or impossible to conduct. This included washing the body for Muslim communities, and sitting Shiva for Jewish communities.
- Bereaved people struggled to access informal and formal support, due to social distancing, feelings of not wanting to burden others during the crisis, difficulties in accessing services delivered online, and long waiting lists for support services.
- Funeral staff themselves struggled with finding time to actually access support within their industry, with the negative impact on mental health experienced by funeral staff driving some of out the industry.
Based on the findings, the report offers several key recommendations for improving bereavement support and improving preparedness in the event of a future pandemic.
Support for bereaved people
- Create publicly funded support networks designed in consultation with bereaved people to improve support.
- Build capacity within existing support services, with additional counsellors specialised in bereavement.
- Develop accessible, clear and comprehensive guidance and support for bereaved people to refer to when they need to plan a funeral.
- Review company policies around compassionate leave and ongoing wellbeing support for staff, including those from different backgrounds.
Support for funeral industry staff
- Consult with funeral industry staff and recognising them as key workers from the outset of future crises.
- Increase the number of crematoria and provide comprehensive formal and informal support for funeral industry workers.
Digitalisation and new technologies
- Introduce measures to mitigate concerns about potential abuses and fraud in relation to death registration.
- Retain digitalisation and simplification of death registration, and large-scale adoption of new technologies such as video streaming of funeral services.
For more information please contact:
Katie Crabb, Head of Marketing and Communications
National Centre for Social Research
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Notes to editors
- The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), Britain’s largest independent social research organisation, aims to promote a better-informed society through high quality social research (www.natcen.ac.uk).
- This research was funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as part of the UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19 (grant number AH/V015273/1).
- The Arts and Humanities Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation. They are the UK’s largest funder of arts and humanities research and training, investing over £100 million every year. They fund independent researchers in a wide range of subjects, including history, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, languages, design, heritage, area studies, the creative and performing arts, and many more. The research they fund provides social and cultural and benefits that contribute to the economic success of the UK, as well as to the culture and welfare of societies around the world. Find out more at ahrc.ukri.org, or on Twitter at @ahrcpress.
- This study involved in-depth qualitative interviews with 28 people who were bereaved during the pandemic, between February 2020 and May 2021. All participants were offered a follow-up interview to explore the medium and longer-term impacts of bereavement during the pandemic, of which 18 were conducted. 26 interviews were held with people who work in the funeral industry (e.g. funeral directors, operation managers, area managers, and funeral arrangers) to understand their experiences of the funeral planning process, the services they offered, and their interactions with bereaved people during the pandemic. To support the development and refinement of recommendations, feedback was sought in a workshop conducted with a range of relevant stakeholders. These included policy makers, academics, and those from funeral, religious, and bereavement organisations.