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Co-op reveals findings of its ‘biggest ever’ death survey

Almost 18 million people are uncomfortable talking about death, according to Co-op’s “biggest ever” survey of over 30,000 people looking at the UK’s attitudes to death, dying and bereavement.

The survey was conducted by YouGov and supported by a coalition of national charities, was opened to the nation in May (2018). It is the first time national attitudes towards death have been looked at on such a scale.

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The findings, released in a broader report ‘Making Peace With Death’, highlighted that further action is needed to tackle the nation’s last taboo. The research uncovered attitudes towards mortality, bereavement and the way in which the nation plans ahead for death.

The report also found that almost five million people say they are too uncomfortable to talk about their own death at all, with almost 13 million UK adults saying they are uncomfortable, but would be willing to talk.

Whilst Brits aren’t at ease talking or opening up to others about death, according to the findings, as a nation, people do think about their own mortality:

  • 91 percent of Brits have thought about their own mortality, with women (93 percent) more likely to consider their own death than men (90 percent)
  • 26 is the average age people first think about their own mortality
  • A third of people (35 percent) think about their own mortality once a week or more

The findings highlighted that life events and external news reports are amongst the top 10 reasons people consider their mortality:

Top 10 reasons people consider their mortality
1 The death of a family member (28 percent) 6 The loss of a friend (15 percent)
2 Reaching a milestone age (22 percent) 7 Making my own will (14 percent)
3 A medical diagnosis – someone I know (17 percent) 8 Terrorism (13 percent)
4 News reports of death (16 percent) 9 Hearing about a celebrity dying (12 percent)
5 A medical diagnosis – myself (15 percent) 10 The death of an acquaintance (10 percent)

Furthermore, when it comes to experiencing a bereavement, the findings revealed that:

  • The average Brit first suffers a bereavement of someone close to them aged 20
  • For 47 percent, the death of a close relative or friend is their first recollection of death
  • Some 14 percent of those who have been recently bereaved (i.e. in the last five years) said that after the death, nobody knew what to say or do
  • A sixth (16 percent) of those recently bereaved kept it to themselves, possibly to avoid having that “chat”
  • A quarter (24 percent) kept as busy as possible, whilst 12 percent got back to work as soon as they could
  • Whether the death was expected (50 percent) or sudden (39 percent) altered the way in which the bereaved were able to cope

Further findings highlight that grief remains hard to deal with long after a death. For many of those who were recently bereaved, the period immediately after finding out about the death (52 percent) or during the funeral (46 percent) were amongst the most difficult. However birthdays (26 percent), the anniversary of their death (25 percent), Christmas or religious festivals (21 percent) and the return to work (12 percent ) were also referenced as times when it was hard to deal with grief.

In response to this, to help increase awareness about how to better support the bereaved, using the findings, the Co-op has produced the below guide, highlighting the most and least helpful things people have done for the bereaved following a loss.

      Most helpful during a bereavement Least helpful during a bereavement
1 Asking if they were okay (41 percent) People avoiding the subject (17 percent)
2 Asking if they could do anything (32 percent) People equating their grief with their own (17 percent)
3 Having friends and family sit with them (19 percent) People avoiding them (15 percent)
4 Asked if they wanted to talk about their loved one (18 percent) Being told to cheer up (15 percent)
5 Giving them time off work (16 percent) Being treated differently (11 percent)

A further area uncovered through the research, is how the taboo of death is leading to a failure to plan ahead.

  • Across the UK, 81 percent of people have not yet saved anything towards a funeral
  • Nationally people have a good awareness of a what a funeral costs, with people thinking it is £3750 on average
  • Some 27 percent have written a will, just six percent) have nominated a lasting power of attorney and only five percent have put a funeral plan in place

Highlighting the impact of this, over four million UK adults may have experienced financial hardship as a result of someone’s death. Co-op is working with key national UK charities, including British Red Cross, Child Bereavement UK, Cruse Bereavement Care, Dying Matters, Remember a Charity and Sue Ryder to drive social change.

Robert MacLachlan, managing director of Co-op Funeralcare and Life Planning, said: “We see increasingly that a failure to properly deal with death has a knock on impact for the bereaved, affecting mental health and also triggering financial hardship. We’re committed to doing right by our clients and more needs to be done nationally to tackle this.

“It’s overwhelming that the survey led to 30,000 people sharing their views. Now that we have such a wealth of insight on what stops the nation engaging with death and bereavement, we can start to address these areas and work with others to drive genuine social change.”                                                       

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