Shabana has written to Simon Clarke MP, Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government, alongside Councillor Sharon Thompson, regarding the ongoing approach to deaths and burials in light of Covid-19.
The joint letter follows recent correspondence from the Minister and ongoing dialogue regarding bereavement services.
In the letter, Shabana and Cllr Thompson suggest introducing eLearning for new employees of the service and volunteers, increased mental health support for those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic, and call for the Government to introduce financial support for funeral costs to relieve the burden on bereaved families.
The letter also restates support for the work of the Birmingham and Solihull Coroner Service and Mortuary.
Read the letter in full below.
Letter to the Minister
Simon Clarke MP
Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government
Approach to deaths and burials during the Covid-19 pandemic
We are writing regarding the ongoing approach to deaths and burials during the Covid-19 pandemic, in response to recent correspondence sent by the Ministry of Housing Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) to Council Leaders in April.
Thank you for the recent conference call regarding deaths and burials, and for the ongoing dialogue with Local Government and Members of Parliament. We echo your comments commending the crucial work undertaken by Coroner Offices and Bereavement Services during this difficult time. In Birmingham, the service continues to maintain a high level of professionalism, upholding the highest standards that allow people to be laid to rest with their final wishes respected, while dealing with an increase in processing of the deceased.
Therefore, it is important that the Government continues to support Coroner Offices and Bereavement Services, providing them with the extra resources required to assist their work.
We understand that Coroner Offices and Bereavement services have recruited volunteers, and extra support staff, to assist with the increased number of registrations and administrative work. In order to ensure high standards are upheld, newly-recruited volunteers and temporary workers should be provided with a full package of Government-supported training. We support the introduction of eLearning courses from the General Register Office for registration staff, which would allow for a streamlined approach to increase trained personnel. We also understand streamlining the training of cremator operators would ensure there is an adequate number of operators in the service.
We note the continued shortage of trained mortuary staff and pathologists across England and Wales. The Covid-19 pandemic serves to highlight the urgent need to train, recruit and retain forensic pathologists and specialist mortuary staff, which has been clear for many years. Addressing the shortage is critical to ensuring the service can continue to operate with efficiency during this time.
It is well-documented that an increase in deaths will increase the pressure on those suffering with mental health conditions, especially for those who have recently lost a close friend or family member. The support of Bereavement Counsellors is critical to supporting people through a bereavement, and we believe that deeper investment into support services would benefit communities across the country.
We are already aware from reports that the Covid-19 pandemic is disproportionately affecting those from BAME communities. In order to support the work of Coroner and Bereavement Services, we repeat calls for the Government to release detailed figures on ethnicity, gender and age when reporting data related to coronavirus infections and deaths.
Evidence suggests that the cost of organising funerals related to the Covid-19 pandemic places an additional burden on families who are already suffering due to bereavement. Cases where the coronavirus has caused multiple deaths within a wider family network have led to significant associated funeral costs, at a time when many are furloughed from work or suffering a fall in regular income. We call upon the Government to introduce financial support for those organising funerals of the deceased linked to Covid-19, or to agree an assistance package with local councils allowing them to reduce the financial burden on bereaved families and communities. In addition, the MHCLG could consider mandating funeral directors and councils to freeze fees for funerals, using abovementioned financial support.
The Covid-19 pandemic presents unprecedented challenges for Coroner Offices and Bereavement Services. Now is the time for the Government to take further action to support their outstanding work and ensure the families of the bereaved can continue their lives free from unnecessary financial burden, and with the support services in place to achieve positive mental health outcomes. We believe the measures suggested in this letter are the right way to begin addressing these issues.
We look forward to receiving your response.
Shabana Mahmood MP
Councillor Sharon Thompson
Cabinet Member for Homes and Neighbourhoods, Birmingham City Council