Sue Ryder calls for statutory paid bereavement leave

09 Nov 2020

Sue Ryder is calling on the Government to introduce two weeks statutory paid bereavement leave for all UK employees for the loss of close relative or partner after research shows workplace grief costs the UK economy £23 billion per year.*

  • 7.9 million people in employment (24% of all employees**) experienced a bereavement in the last 12 months.
  • Grief experienced by employees who have lost a loved one costs the UK economy £23bn a year and costs HM Treasury nearly £8bn a year ; through reduced tax revenues and increased use of NHS and social care resources; according to economic research commissioned by Sue Ryder*.
  • Most of the negative economic impact arises from grieving employees being unable to work at their normal levels of productivity while they deal with the mental, physical, and financial impacts of a bereavement.
  • Sue Ryder is urging people to support its campaign on bereavement leave, and contact their local MP to ensure the government includes statutory paid bereavement leave in the upcoming Employment Bill.

Currently, in the UK there is no legal requirement for employers to grant bereavement leave, except for parents who have lost a child under 18 years old. 

Sue Ryder research* suggests that investing in adequate bereavement leave and support may result in initial short-term costs. However, this could lead to a significant saving for the UK economy and the treasury in the long-term, through reduced staff absence, higher employee productivity and a lesser reliance on the health and benefits system post-bereavement. As a result, the charity is now calling on the government to introduce a statutory two weeks bereavement leave for the loss of a close relative or partner.

The grief that follows a bereavement may include difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness.  Intense grief can lead to loss of sleep and appetite, an inability to think clearly and in the most extreme cases, can lead to mental health conditions such as depression, eating disorders, anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

Research shows*** that low income workers are at higher risk of experiencing persistent grief, not only because of the relatively higher impact of financial losses post-bereavement, but because they face more barriers in accessing appropriate services and information to help them cope with grief. Sue Ryder’s research and anecdotal evidence highlighted that the security of knowing that they are being given paid leave, without concerns of how they are being perceived or possibly penalised by employers, can give people the time and space to come to terms with their loss.   

Sue Ryder believes that introducing statutory paid bereavement leave to all UK employees, would alleviate at least some of the pressure that people feel in the immediate aftermath of a bereavement and this would particularly benefit people in low income jobs.  

Heidi Travis, Chief Executive at Sue Ryder, said:

“For many people, grief can be debilitating and additional stressors such as work, can feel overwhelming.  

“Currently many employers offer three to five days compassionate leave, but lower income workers in less secure jobs often don’t have access to any leave. 

“Sue Ryder is calling on the government to introduce two weeks statutory paid bereavement leave when a person is grieving the loss of any close relative or partner. This will allow people a crucial period of time to start processing their grief. 

“Not only would this improve how, as a society, we approach an issue that will affect almost all of us, but it would also address the financial impacts of unresolved grief, and its cost to the economy.”

An anonymous user of Sue Ryder’s bereavement services, said:

“I felt pushed to go back to work before I was ready and I want it to be better for other people. One size doesn’t fit all in the case of grief and a lot of people are suffering unnecessarily.”

Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth and member of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, added:

“The coronavirus pandemic has cast a spotlight on the urgent need to better support people who are dealing with grief. Introducing a statutory right to two weeks paid bereavement leave would be a significant step forward.  This would mean that people who are in the immediate aftermath of a loved one’s death do not need to worry about work and are not put under any pressure to return to work.

“I’ve heard too many stories from people who’ve felt obliged to return to work straight after the death of someone close to them, when they simply weren’t ready. Introducing this simple measure would be a concrete way that both the government and employers can better support people who are grieving.”

Sue Ryder provides a range of online bereavement support, including free video counselling delivered through trained bereavement counsellors; an online community forum offering 24-hour peer to peer support and a wide range of advice and resources for people who are grieving or supporting someone through bereavement.


* - Sue Ryder commissioned an economist in September 2020 to conduct a literature review of current research.

** - Additional research was commissioned with a survey conducted by Censuswide in September 2020 surveying 1,000 working age adults, 1,000 Scottish working age adults and 500 bereaved people of working age in the last 12 months. 

*** - Newsom, C., Stroebe, M. S., Schut, H., Wilson, S., Birrell, J., Moerbeek, M., & Eisma, M. C. (2019). Community-based counselling reaches and helps bereaved people living in low-income households. Psychotherapy research, 29(4), 479-491.

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