New initiative to support employers improve approach to end of life issues

Categories: Care.

‘Compassionate employers’, a new national initiative launched by the Dying Matters Coalition, will support businesses who want to improve their approach to end of life issues, whether this means improving support for employees who have been bereaved, better support for carers and/or training for managers and staff.

The announcement comes as the Coalition, in partnership with the National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC) and the National Bereavement Alliance, publish a new report examining how to improve bereavement support.

In an online survey conducted by ComRes for NCPC, 87% of the 2,000 adults surveyed agreed that all employers should have a compassionate employment policy, including paid bereavement leave, flexible working and a range of other support.

In addition, 56% of people said they would consider leaving their job if their employer did not provide proper support if someone close to them died.

Of the 841 people in the survey who were bereaved in the past five years whilst in employment, 32% said they did not feel that their employer treated them with compassion.

The report, ‘Life after death: six steps to improve support in bereavement’, makes a number of recommendations around improving support for bereaved people, including in the workplace.

As a starting point, the national charities are calling upon all employers to ensure they have an updated bereavement policy, which sets out what support employees who have been bereaved are entitled to.

The report also calls for a national review of employment practice relating to bereavement, to explore the feasibility of minimum statutory bereavement leave and make recommendations for individual employers including sample bereavement policies, incentives for good practice, and training and support for line managers.

Eve Richardson, Chief Executive of NCPC and the Dying Matters Coalition, commented: “The costs of bereavement are too great to ignore, both for individuals and for society. Employers have an important role to play by being compassionate and having a bereavement policy in place. They should also ensure that they support their managers so that they are confident in having sensitive discussions about end of life issues with their staff. It is also often the little things that matter and help make a difference, such as kind words from a manager or a card to say we are thinking of you. With the number of people dying each year set to increase there’s never been a more important time to get bereavement support right, both in the workplace and throughout society.”

The six steps for improving support outlined in the report are:

  • A named Minister with responsibility for bereavement.
  • A national review of the impact of financial, administrative and economic changes on those who have been bereaved.
  • Clarity about who is responsible locally for commissioning and providing bereavement support, with better coordination and information about services.
  • Training in bereavement for all those coming into contact with bereaved people, at a level appropriate to their role.
  • Better bereavement support at work.
  • More compassionate communities where everyone knows enough about grief to play their part in supporting people around a death.

Palliative and hospice care response

Dawn Chaplin, Co-founder of the National Bereavement Alliance, said: “Learning to live with the loss of someone close is one of the most painful experiences we can encounter, and society’s response often makes it even harder. There’s an urgent need to improve access to bereavement services, and to ensure that people who have been bereaved are not ignored or left isolated.”

Heather Richardson, National Clinical Lead at Help the Hospices, commented: “Sadly, too many bereaved people are not able to access the vital emotional and practical support they need and this urgently needs to change, particularly given the projected increase in annual deaths in England.

“Hospices have long-standing expertise in successfully providing tailored support for bereaved people in a variety of different ways, including through one-to-one counselling and support groups. They are well placed to share their knowledge with other organisations on how to support bereaved people sensitively through one of the most difficult periods of their lives.

“Also, as hospices have strong links with local people in their areas, especially through volunteering and fundraising, they have a key role to play in breaking down wider cultural barriers around death and dying to help create more compassionate communities.”

Together for Short Lives, the leading UK charity for children’s palliative care have also responded to the report. A statement on the charity’s website said that the recommendations follow Together for Short Lives’ own priorities for the next Parliament, which emphasise the need for improved support to families of children who die with life-threatening or life-limiting conditions. 

It continues: “We are calling for every employer to put a bereavement policy in place which includes an entitlement to time off for bereaved family members and agreed arrangements for pay during this period. We would also like to see families with low incomes supported in meeting funeral costs when a child dies; family carers supported in returning to work; and a gradual reduction – rather than a sudden end – to benefits paid to families who have cared for a child who has died.”

Andrew Fletcher, Director of External Affairs at Together for Short Lives, added: “Losing a child is an incredibly distressing time for parents, siblings and the wider family. Yet the way in which financial and emotional support is organised can be inconsistent and does not always provide help to families when they are most in need. We welcome this new report which adds further weight to calls to improve bereavement care in the UK.”

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