The pandemic has shown that funeral and death care staff are essential workers too
Covid-19 has placed an enormous strain on those who work in the death care industry. It is time that we recognise and protect the importance of this sector and the people within it
Over the last year Covid-19 has very sadly become a major factor in all our lives. With the death toll now exceeding 125,000 people in the UK, and the nearly constant coverage of it in national news, death has become a daily discussion in our lives.
This increase in deaths has put an overwhelming amount of pressure on those who work in the death care industry. They are handling a devastating surge in demand, a tidal wave of grief and a list of new restrictions, which can be both heart-breaking and difficult to enforce. Amongst all of this there is also the stress of catching Covid-19 themselves. Yet despite these difficulties staff have valiantly continued to care for our dead.
Many are having to work almost non-stop, for days and weeks on end, with some businesses now managing 30 to 50 per cent more funerals than usual. They are over-worked and in many cases understaffed due to workers having to isolate after catching or coming into contact with the virus. Funeral services and cremations are having to be postponed, compounding the grief of bereaved families and friends. Staff at West Lancashire Crematorium recently made me aware of this problem and the disastrous effects it could have on the industry. I therefore wrote to the secretary of state for health and social care urging him to consider vaccinating death care staff as a matter of priority.
Ignoring the work that goes into end of life care is a symptom of a society which is reluctant to talk about death
The death care industry is often not at the forefront of our minds and many of us may have previously been unaware of the extent of work staff members pour into providing send-offs for our loved ones. In my role, as vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Funerals and Bereavement, I have gained an important insight into the wider industry and I believe that the pandemic is further shedding light on it. Death care staff are essential workers and we need to take this opportunity to recognise their work and dedication. We must support them by including them in the conversation regarding the provision of PPE at affordable prices and we must prioritise them for vaccination.
Ignoring the work that goes into end-of-life care is a symptom of a society which is reluctant to talk about death. Covid-19 has forced us to give it our attention. We should use this opportunity to not only recognise the work of death care staff but to demystify the industry as well. Too many people find funeral options to be rigid and unclear and issues within the sector – such as its environmental impact – are not often spoken about.
Encouraging an open conversation around death care will allow us to better support the industry and give people the option to explore more personal, greener and sustainable ways of saying goodbye. I am proud to be associated with the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Funerals and Bereavement that is the voice for this sector within Parliament. I know it will continue to support and speak out on behalf of death care workers as they continue to navigate through the pandemic. I am also confident that it will encourage development and evolution within the industry beyond the current crisis. It is time that we recognise and protect the importance of this sector and the people within it.
Rosie Cooper is Labour MP for West Lancashire and vice chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Funerals and Bereavement