Great Britain

Ten million Britons unable to attend funerals in lockdown

Nearly 10 million people were unable to attend the funeral of someone they knew during lockdown, according to a new study from the UK’s largest undertaker, which warned that the nation is heading towards a national grief “pandemic”.

In its report, Co-op Funeralcare found Covid-19 restrictions meant that 9.7 million mourners had to stay away from cremations and burials. The figure is based on an estimate that 243,000 funerals went ahead in the UK during lockdown with an average of 10 attendees due to coronavirus rules, compared with 50 in normal times.

Warning of the long-term psychological impact of being unable to grieve properly, the study said the UK could experience a prolonged period of mourning for months, or even years, to come.

The report, called A Nation in Mourning, looked at Co-op Funeralcare’s own business data and YouGov research also supported by charity Cruse Bereavement Care. It found that nearly two-thirds (61%) of UK adults who had experienced a loss during lockdown said they had had nothing to help them to grieve.

The chain – the UK’s largest funeral director with more than 1,000 funeral homes conducting almost 100,000 funerals each year – defines lockdown as from 23 March to 5 July.

Government guidelines, drawn up following lockdown in conjunction with ethicists and faith leaders, permitted only close family members to attend funerals while observing physical distancing. Some local councils, however, went further and prohibited any attendees at crematoriums and gravesides.

When asked for the new research about the most important way to say goodbye, 42% of UK adults chose being present when their loved one passes away, while 33% chose attending a funeral or memorial service.

David Collingwood, director of funerals at Co-op Funeralcare, said: “A funeral provides a sense of closure for bereaved families and is very often the start of the grieving process. Sadly, the recent restrictions mean an estimated 243,000 bereaved families have been denied the right to say goodbye to their loved one in the way they would have wished.

“We completely supported the need to introduce these restrictions at the beginning of the devastating coronavirus pandemic in the UK. Tragically, we don’t yet know what the long-term psychological effects will be for families denied the last opportunity to say goodbye, so it is vital that we do everything possible to allow families and individuals to attend funerals, whilst always prioritising the health and safety of our communities.”

In April, Co-op Funeralcare warned that funeral homes could go bust without government support because they were shouldering the cost of staging stripped-back services for coronavirus victims. Families did not require the traditional but costly extras – where funeral services make their profit – such as limousine hire, flowers and chapel of rest viewings.

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