Bereavement Support - Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:26 am on 9 November 2022.

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Photo of The Bishop of London The Bishop of London Bishop 11:26, 9 November 2022

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they plan to take in response to the report by the UK Commission on Bereavement, Bereavement is Everyone’s Business, published on 6 October, which found that over 40% of respondents who wanted formal bereavement support did not get any.

Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

Ensuring that bereavement support is available to those who need it when they need it remains a priority for the Government. The Government have set up a cross-government bereavement working group to ensure better join-up across government. We will use this group to address the recommendations raised in this report, and we will continue to work with the voluntary sector and across all four nations to improve access to support for bereaved individuals.

Photo of The Bishop of London The Bishop of London Bishop

I thank the Minister for his response. During a Westminster Hall debate on 5 July this year, the former Minister for Care and Mental Health, now the Secretary of State for Education, made a commitment that the Government will formally respond to the commission’s report. Now that the commission has published its findings, highlighting the challenges that bereaved people face today and setting out our detailed recommendations for improving support in the future, will the Minister reaffirm the Government’s commitment formally to respond to the commission’s report?

Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

First, I say on the record that I welcome the support in this area—the title of the report encapsulates the whole issue, in that bereavement is everyone’s business. That sums up the whole approach, which is one I totally agree with. We have set up a new policy team to work in this area, and it is meeting with the commission next week to talk about how to address those recommendations. The right reverend Prelate and I have a meeting shortly afterwards, to which I am intending to bring some members of that team so that we can discuss it further.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour

My Lords, one group in particular need of bereavement counselling is young men from the Gypsy and Traveller population. Although the absolute numbers are not very large, the proportion of suicides among that group is far higher than in any other group. Nevertheless, they are not on the NHS register of groups particularly at risk. Will the Minister ensure that they get proper recognition, in spite of the fact that the absolute numbers are not large, because of the huge preponderance of suicides?

Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I agree; we have to address every group. Part of the research into this is about ensuring that every group has access to support. I cannot speak in detail on the group mentioned, but I will make sure that the new team we have set up addresses this, because mental health and the causes of suicide are often the tip of the iceberg, and we need to make sure that every single group is addressed.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, for centuries, people at times of bereavement have turned to their priests, pastors and other spiritual leaders. Should not the Churches, and the Church of England in particular, react to this report by renewing and indeed enlarging their spiritual mission to comfort and succour the bereaved? Or could it be that in the diocese of London there is a feeling that some are no longer equal to this task, it having caused a bereavement in 2020 by driving to suicide a priest who was the friend of my heart in Cambridge years ago, accusing him, falsely, of sex abuse, refusing to disclose the allegations to him and then later asking a coroner to cover up for it?

Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I am afraid that I do not have any knowledge of the case in point. As I said before, I welcome the role of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London in producing this report, which I know all the bishops and all the Church, of whatever faith, will take directly to heart. Again, I can only repeat the title of the report: Bereavement is Everyone’s Business. The Church has a key role to play in that, as it fully understands.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, will the Government ensure that groups who are undertaking good bereavement support of children, particularly in schools, are actively engaged in cross-departmental working, given that a large number of children who are acutely bereaved do not get any support at all and often do not have the language with which to express their feelings? Will the Government also ensure that, through the Ministry of Justice, the Prison Service is actively involved? It has been estimated that about four out of five remand prisoners have had a seriously traumatic bereavement experience with no support at all, which has culminated in progressive anger resulting in criminal activity.

Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I was very struck when I read the report by the breadth: for every death, five to nine people are bereaved, and often they are young people or people in prison. The truth, as we know, is that it is people across the board. That is why I particularly welcome the new policy team, which has members from the DfE and, I think, the Ministry of Justice; however, I will check, because the point the noble Baroness has made is a good one. The whole point of the policy team is that it is cross-functional, to try to ensure that we really can touch every single point where there are institutions which can help the bereaved.

Photo of Lord Rennard Lord Rennard Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I lost my father at the age of three and lost my mother just before I was 17. At that point, my schoolfriends did not know what to say, my teachers’ concern was confined to my academic progress, and when I was suffering from the consequences of bereavement while at university, I found no sympathy or support from staff. Recently, half of the respondents to a Childhood Bereavement Network survey said that they had little or no support from their educational setting after bereavement. What can be done to improve access to bereavement services, to improve the training of education professionals in helping young people manage their lives after bereavement, and to help children better understand the process of dying and managing their emotional feelings in those difficult circumstances?

Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I thank the noble Lord, and I agree. I have to admit that when I was a child, I failed a friend, because I did not know what to say. As I mentioned, the DfE is part of this working group and we are training 10,000 early years practitioners in this space to try to ensure that they can provide the training that is needed in schools. The number of schools supported in this way is increasing, but today it is still only 35%, so clearly there is more work to be done. The noble Lord can rest assured that we take this very seriously.

Photo of Baroness Browning Baroness Browning Conservative

Does my noble friend agree that the pain of bereavement, for all people, under whatever circumstances somebody has died, is a pain like no other? Will he consider the need to act swiftly for people whose loved ones have died—perhaps I might use the word—prematurely? Sudden death brings with it a shock that requires professional support from well-trained people, and which lasts for a very long time, if not a lifetime. Will he also consider whether registrars of death should hold in their offices a lot more localised information, with good contacts and reliable resources that can be made immediately available when a death is registered?

Photo of Lord Markham Lord Markham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

Yes, and again, that is where I welcome the report, which sets out how we must all ensure that we are training people to respond in the most appropriate way possible. I see our role in this as enablers, so that we can get the right people and put the right support in place at every level and in every circumstance. Clearly, where there is a sudden death, that adds a particular circumstance that needs a different approach. Again, that is why I welcome the report and the policy team, and I look forward to meeting with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London later to ensure that we are covering all these different examples.