People who lose a close relative or partner should be entitled to two weeks’ statutory paid bereavement leave, the Sue Ryder charity has said.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought into focus the current rules, under which employers are only obliged to grant bereavement leave to parents who have lost a child. Sue Ryder says that extending the requirement would give people space to grieve and alleviate some of the pressure they feel, particularly benefitting those in low-income jobs.
People in low-income jobs often are less likely to be offered bereavement leave, and research has found they are at higher risk of experiencing ongoing grief because of the higher relative impact of financial losses and the fact that they face more barriers in accessing services to help them cope.
Economic research commissioned by Sue Ryder calculates that grief experienced by employees who have lost a loved one costs the UK economy £23bn a year through reduced productivity, and the Treasury nearly £8bn as a result of reduced tax revenues and increased use of NHS and social care resources.
The bereavement charity believes initial short-term costs would be far outweighed by long-term savings and is urging people to contact their local MP to ensure the government includes statutory paid bereavement leave in the upcoming employment bill.
Heidi Travis, Sue Ryder’s chief executive, said: “This will allow people a crucial period of time to start processing their grief. Not only would this improve how, as a society, we approach an issue that will affect almost all of us, but it would also address the financial impacts of unresolved grief, and its cost to the economy.”
She said many employers offered three to five days compassionate leave, but that was often not the case for lower-income workers in less secure jobs.
In extreme cases bereavement can lead to mental health conditions including depression, eating disorders, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Debbie Abrahams, the MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth and a member of the work and pensions select committee, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has cast a spotlight on the urgent need to better support people who are dealing with grief. Introducing a statutory right to two weeks paid bereavement leave would be a significant step forward.”
A government spokesperson said: “Family bereavement is an extremely personal and difficult issue which people deal with in different ways. We urge employers to display compassion and flexibility towards employees facing this ordeal.
“We are proud that the UK is the only country in the world to have introduced a right to time off specifically for the loss of a child.”