Supporting life after death

Written by: Alison Payne, Research Director, Reform Scotland
and Elinor Jayne, Head of Influencing, Sue Ryder
and Richard Meade, Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Marie Curie

Published: 29/07/2020

Image of the Marie Curie, Sue Ryder and Reform Scotland logos

Although death remains a taboo subject for many, the pandemic has meant we are all talking about it more.

Not just deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic itself and the much discussed daily numbers; but restrictions on attending funerals; or visiting sick loved ones; or even being able to say goodbye to someone close to you.

People continue to die from a wide range of reasons and, although not all deaths may be linked to Coronavirus, our ability to grieve and turn to others for help has been hugely affected.

Bereavement and loss can be debilitating and all consuming, even if it is expected. It can be a tsunami – whether you are facing it, knowing it is coming; or is totally unexpected, it hits you all the same.

But for thousands of Scots, there is an added complication to their loss. Every year an estimated 40,000-50,000 carers in Scotland are bereaved, a number expected to increase as a result of the epidemic.

For many when their caring role ends so does the vital support they receive from benefits and tax credits, peer support, and even their identity as a carer, as well as their purpose.

Although Carer’s Allowance continues for eight weeks, this is not long enough for people to grieve, possibly find a job and adjust to their new circumstances.

While a carer’s grief may be no greater than someone else suffering a loss, their practical ability to rebuild connections in their local community and/or the work place will be considerably more difficult.

According to Aviva, one in five employees aged over 45 expects to quit their job to care for an adult relative full time. Many ultimately find it difficult to return to the labour market following the end of their caring role. The longer someone has been caring, the longer they are likely to have been out of the labour market and potentially isolated from the networks they had before becoming a carer.

Therefore, the more that can be done to help these individuals back into work if that’s what they’d like to do, whether through support, counselling and retraining, the better it is for them and for our communities and wider society.

As a result, a collaboration between Marie Curie, Sue Ryder and Reform Scotland has produced a new report (this link will take you away from our website), ‘Life After Death: Supporting carers after bereavement’, which calls for major changes in the support offered to carers after the person they have cared for dies.

Our report sets out four policy proposals:

  1. A new Carers (Bereavement Support) (Scotland) Bill early in the next Parliament to provide information and a plan to support carers following the end of their caring role.
  2. A new fund to support training and education for carers returning to work/seeking employment.
  3. A new Post-Caring Support Payment to help carers struggling financially following the end of their caring role.
  4. To extend eligibility for the Carer’s Allowance and Carer’s Allowance Supplement for up to 6 months after the person’s caring role comes to an end (from the current 8 weeks).

The Scottish Government has recognised the huge burden shouldered by carers and rightly put in place measures to support them to cope. However, the challenges being faced by the carer do not disappear when the person dies.  We believe that the policies we have outlined help address this gap and urge the Scottish Government to adopt our recommendations.

For support when bereaved please go to Sue Ryder’s online community www.sueryder.org/support (this link will take you away from our website).

Marie Curie’s Information and Support Line, including our national bereavement support service, is available on 0800 090 2309.

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