The UK Commission on Bereavement has set out a list of recommendations which would benefit people aged over 65, the group most likely to experience bereavement, in one of the largest ever consultations on bereavement support in the UK. The commission was established by charities including Independent Age, Marie Curie and Cruse Bereavement Support.
National older people’s charity, Independent Age, provided both written and oral evidence to the Commission on the bereavement experiences older people face, and have welcomed the findings in the report entitled “Bereavement is Everyone’s Business”. The organisation is calling on the government to act on the report’s recommendations without delay.
With the cost of living impacting heavily on many people amid increasing energy and food prices and rising mortgage rate rises, the Commission’s report makes important recommendations to prevent bereavement becoming a trigger into financial hardship.
Older people are more likely than other age groups to experience the death of their husband, wife or life partner, which can hugely affect their household income. When a partner dies, pension income can suddenly reduce, despite people still having similar living costs and maybe facing high funeral bills. Sometimes, this change in their financial situation can be so dramatic that it thrusts them into poverty.
The Commissioners echo Independent Age’s recommendation that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) should work to increase the uptake of Pension Credit. This is a benefit which tops up the State Pension for those on a low income, but has the lowest take-up of all income related benefits. Bereaved older adults may become entitled to Pension Credit following the death of a partner, due to a drop in household income. Research commissioned by Independent Age in 2020 estimated that if every eligible pensioner received the Pension Credit they were entitled to it would lift roughly 400,000 of those out of poverty at the time the research was conducted.
Polling on behalf of Independent Age showed that, of the 8% of adults of all ages who sought extra emotional support following a bereavement, just over half (57%) actually received this within a reasonable timeframe. Over one in ten (12%) were not able to access any help at all.
With people aged over 65 the most likely to experience a bereavement, ensuring that emotional support following a bereavement is helpful and appropriate is a major older person’s issue.
Independent Age’s research shows that nearly 4 in 5 people over the age of 65 are not given information about the emotional support available following a bereavement, and accessibility and availability of this support is a major barrier that the commissioners identified through their evidence collection.
Independent Age supports the commission’s call for the UK Government to invest 79p per person annually to ensure appropriate emotional bereavement support is accessible. This will be vital in ensuring older people get the correct support.
Julia Neuberger, Commissioner of the UK Commission on Bereavement and Chair of Independent Age said:
“It’s essential that the voices of older people are heard in all aspects of life but especially when it comes to bereavement. We know as we age, we are more likely to suffer a death. The UKCB heard evidence from thousands about their experience of bereavement and has been able to make some clear recommendations on how to improve the experience of bereavement for those in later life, and all other age groups too. Now, we’re calling on the Government to implement the recommendations.”
Morgan Vine, Head of Policy and Influencing at Independent Age said:
“As we grow older, grief is more likely to hit us from multiple angles. It should not be assumed that experiencing a death in later life is less painful or easier to cope with and older people should not be left to struggle alone at this difficult time. Instead, we must increase both the emotional and financial support that is available to people of all ages, including those aged 65 and over so they know that help is there if they need it.
“Independent Age welcomes the Commission’s recommendations and calls on the government to implement them in full, so that people are supported to move forward with their grief.”
Normalising conversations around death for the over-65s
The charity also welcomes calls on the Government to commit to developing initiatives to increase understanding and normalise conversations around death, at a cost of just 6p per person.7 Independent Age’s research has shown that although 9% of adults aged under 65 have sought extra support after a bereavement, just 4% of older adults have.8 By opening up the conversation around bereavement, it is hoped that older people will feel more able to seek support after a bereavement, if they think it could be helpful.