Silence is deadly: Biggest ever survey sees 30,000 Brits tackle death taboo
17 August 2018
Findings of UK’s biggest ever survey into death and bereavement reveal:
- Almost 18 million people are uncomfortable talking about death
- 4 million people have experienced financial hardship as a result of someone’s death
- The average Brit first suffers a bereavement of someone close to them aged 20
- Co-op supported by leading national charities is seeking to drive social change to tackle this last taboo
Over 30,000 people have come a step closer to tackling the taboo of death, as Co-op reveals the findings of the UK’s biggest ever survey into death, dying and bereavement*.
The survey commissioned by Co-op, 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.
Today’s findings, released in a broader report “Making Peace With Death”, highlight 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.
Highlighting the extent of the last taboo, the report reveals that almost 18 million people are uncomfortable talking about death**. Almost 5 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 we 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% of Brits have thought about their own mortality, with women (93%) more likely to consider their own death than men (90%)
- 26 is the average age people first think about their own mortality
- A third (35%) think about their own mortality once a week or more
Findings highlight that life events and external news reports are amongst the top 10 reasons people consider their mortality:
Perhaps as a result of this, when it comes to experiencing a bereavement, the national taboo is having a detrimental impact. Findings reveal that:
- The average Brit first suffers a bereavement of someone close to them aged 20
- For half (47%), the death of a close relative or friend is their first recollection of death
- A seventh (14%) of those who have been recently bereaved (i.e. in the last 5 years) said that after the death, nobody knew what to say or do
- A sixth (16%) of those recently bereaved kept it to themselves, possibly to avoid having that “chat”
- A quarter (24%) kept as busy as possible, whilst 12% got back to work as soon as they could
- Whether the death*** was expected (50%) or sudden (39%) 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%) or during the funeral (46%) were amongst the most difficult. However birthdays (26%), the anniversary of their death (25%), Christmas or religious festivals (21%) and the return to work (12%) 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.
A further area uncovered through the research, is how the taboo is leading to a failure to plan ahead.
- Across the UK, 81% 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****
- Over a quarter (27%) have written a will, just one in 20 (6%) have nominated a lasting power of attorney and only 5% have put a funeral plan in place
Highlighting the impact of this, over 4 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. This work will look at the following gaps identified by the research:
A greater support network and guidance for employers to assist managers with supporting colleagues following a bereavement
A shift in the national language used to talk about death moving to more direct conversations and a national campaign for a more open culture that breaks the taboo
Opening up new networks for bereaved families and individuals ensuring there are more natural opportunities for them to seek support and contact with others following a death
Greater focus on the interactions with death and mortality in the early stages of life to understand better the role of education in preparing us for one of lives hardest events.
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.”
Julia Samuel, author of the bestselling book Grief Works, comments:
‘’This Co-op survey being on such a large scale is both convincing and fascinating. It gives us concrete evidence of the extent that death is unvoiced in our society and shows that we need to find a way to bring those thoughts and fears out into the open.
‘’The fear of talking about death, both their own, and of those they love, means that people are not receiving the support they most need at the time, and following their bereavement. This support is the predictor of their outcome, for good or ill. When someone dies it is the love and support of others that enables us to heal and find a way of living again.
‘’I welcome this survey as part of the wider Co-op campaign to improve the support and care of bereaved families.’’
Carol McGiffin, Television Broadcaster, commented:
‘’Death, dying and bereavement are unavoidable experiences that impact all of us, so it’s incredibly eye-opening to see how many of us are still uncomfortable talking about it. Having experienced a life threatening illness myself, I now have a completely different perspective on mortality and have realised how important it is to come to terms with it.
‘’It’s so important that these conversations become more of a norm and that it doesn’t take something drastic to trigger them. I’m sure that the work the Co-op is doing and the findings of its survey will help to drive positive change.’’
*Co-op’s biggest ever survey into death dying and bereavement was conducted by YouGov from 7th May to 25th June 2018 among over 30,000 UK adults. Further detail on the study can be found in Co-op’s media report
** Population figures calculated by the Co-op, based on YouGov figures.
For those uncomfortable about death: When asked what statement best described how they felt talking to their loved ones about their own death = 33.25% chose “Not at all comfortable – I won’t discuss it” or “Not very comfortable – but I am willing to talk about it” Mid-2017 UK 16+ ONS population estimate = 53,534,872 33.25% of 53,534,872 = 17,800,344.94 For those who won’t talk about death: When asked what statement best described how they felt talking to their loved ones about their own death = 9.00% said they were “Not at all comfortable – I won’t discuss it” 9.00% of 53,534,872 = 4,818,138.48 For those who are reluctant to talk about death: When asked what statement best described how they felt talking to their loved ones about their own death = 9.00% said they were “Not very comfortable – but I am willing to talk about it” 24.25% of 53,534,872 = 12,982,206.46
*** Based on bereavements experienced in the last 5 years
**** According to Co-op data, the average UK funeral cost in 2017 was £3,944 including our costs and third party fees
*****Population figures calculated by the Co-op, based on YouGov figures. For those who have experienced financial hardship as a result of someone’s death: When asked if they experienced financial hardship as a result of someone close to them passing away, including having to meet your partner's share of the mortgage, to pay more bills, taking time off work = 7.58% said they had 7.58% of 53,534,872 = 4,057,943.30
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About the Co-op
The Co-op, one of the world’s largest consumer co-operatives, with interests across food, funerals, insurance, electrical and legal services, has a clear purpose of championing a better way of doing business for you and your communities. Owned by millions of UK consumers, The Co-op operates a total of 3,750 outlets, with more than 70,000 colleagues and an annual turnover of approximately £10 billion.
Home to the UK’s leading funeral provider, Co-op Funeralcare conducts almost 100,000 funerals annually across over 1,000 funeral homes. Combined with its leading legal services business, the Co-op is also a national provider of later life products and services ranging from funeral plans, through to wills and probate.