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Calls for mandatory bereavement leave

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Written by: Emma Lunn
13/01/2021
A coalition of charities, MPs, businesses, faith leaders, and healthcare professionals are calling on the government to introduce a minimum of two weeks statutory paid bereavement leave.

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.

The coalition is calling for all employees to be given two weeks’ leave if they are grieving the loss of a close relative or partner.

Research by bereavement charity Sue Ryder conducted in October found that in the past 12 months, 7.9 million people in employment (24% of all employees) 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 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.

Research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that only 54% of employees 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 the coronavirus pandemic, 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, are calling for mandatory bereavement leave.

The group has written to the secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy Kwasi Kwarteng, urging for a change in policy to provide security for those who are grieving the loss of a relative or partner.

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: “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.”

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