Sue Ryder gains support from cross-party MPs and organisations to call on Government to bolster bereavement support in the workplace

National bereavement charity Sue Ryder and a coalition of MPs, charities, businesses, faith leaders and healthcare professionals are calling on the Government to introduce a minimum of two weeks statutory paid bereavement leave for all UK employees grieving the loss of a close relative or partner.

A person alone in their living room

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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. It is otherwise entirely at the employer’s discretion.

Sue Ryder research conducted in October found that in the past 12 months, 7.9 million people in employment (24% of all employees (1)) experienced a bereavement.

Economic research conducted by Sue Ryder has found that 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.

Sue Ryder research (1) suggests that investing in adequate bereavement leave and support may result in initial short-term costs. However, this would 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.

Furthermore, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) research shows that only 54% of employees (2) say that their organisation has a bereavement policy or any bereavement support in place. Consequently, almost half of all employees are unable to take a single day to grieve the loss of a partner or relative, without fearing implications for their job security.

In light of all the nation has endured in 2020, Sue Ryder and the coalition, which includes senior MPs and representatives from Hospice UK, Cruse Bereavement Care, Siemens plc and the Royal College of Physicians, have written to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Kwasi Kwarteng MP, urging for a change in policy to provide security for those who are grieving the loss of a relative or partner.

The grief that follows a bereavement can be debilitating. It is vital that employees are supported with appropriate time off at what is already an extremely difficult time.

A grieving person alone at a table, with a cup of coffee

Heidi Travis, Chief Executive at Sue Ryder, said:

“We were disappointed that in a recent House of Commons debate on the issue, a Government Minister stated that people who are grieving for their loved ones are already entitled to take up to 5.6 weeks of annual leave a year, which could be used if their employer does not permit bereavement leave.

“Bereavement is not a holiday. Moreover, it is often the lower paid and those in less secure employment who are unable to take time off to start processing their pain – they may not have the option of flexible working, cannot call in sick and unpaid leave is not a viable alternative.

“Coronavirus has already led to an increase in bereavement across the UK, devastating thousands of families. At this time of national crisis, introducing a more compassionate approach to bereavement leave is paramount.

“We are urging the Government to reconsider its stance and introduce two weeks statutory paid bereavement leave when a person is grieving the loss of a close relative or partner. 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 impact of unresolved grief.”

Carl Ennis, UK CEO of Siemens plc, said:

“The lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic have shown that we need to take a more empathetic and holistic approach to bereavement. We are urging other organisations to join us in support of Sue Ryder’s campaign to introduce a minimum of two weeks paid bereavement leave. This will go a long way to helping all those suffering from a close bereavement to get the crucial support that they need from their employer.

“As the Government looks to “Build Back Better”, we believe that introducing statutory bereavement leave for an immediate family member or partner is a clear example of a bold, compassionate, and caring commitment to UK workers, particularly after the devastating year we had in 2020.”

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.”

If you're an employer, we also have advice and useful resources for supporting your employees through a bereavement, to provide a more supportive and open working environment during such an emotionally difficult time.

Add your name to demand bereavement leave for all

Everyone in the UK deserves the right to bereavement leave if they lose a loved one.

References

1 Sue Ryder commissioned an economist in September 2020 to conduct a literature review of current research. Additional research was conducted by Censuswide in September 2020 surveying 1,000 working-age adults, 1,000 Scottish working-age adults and 500 working-age adults bereaved in the last 12 months.

2 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. https://doi.org/10.1080/10503307.2017.1377359