Less than a quarter of local commissioning bodies in England have provided extra funding for bereavement services to help people during the coronavirus pandemic, charity research suggests.
Just 22% of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and 17% of local authorities who responded to requests from Independent Age have provided additional funding for bereavement support in light of the crisis.
The charity sent freedom of information requests to CCGs and local authorities and found there is “no clear responsibility” for providing or commissioning services.
Almost a third (32%) of CCGs and more than half (56%) of local authorities who responded had not commissioned any bereavement services within the last three years, it said.
The results also show there are at least 12 local authority areas where no bereavement support is commissioned by either the local authority or CCG.
Independent Age said the “inconsistent approach” is creating a postcode lottery and risks people being left without vital help.
Chief executive Deborah Alsina said: “Undoubtedly the shocking death toll from Covid-19 has meant that more people are being left to struggle through a bereavement alone, but we know this lack of support isn’t a new problem.
“For years, bereavement support has been disparate, unconnected and highly localised. People in later life frequently tell us they are unaware of what support is available or how to access it.
“It has never been more urgent for the Government to recognise the vital role bereavement support plays and make it a funding priority.
“The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) must implement a bereavement strategy with improved oversight to ensure everyone is given the support they need at what can be the worst time of their life, regardless of where they live.”
In the first lockdown, Independent Age estimates up to 98,000 people aged over 65 were bereaved of a partner.
Typically, 7% of bereaved people go on to develop “complicated grief”, a prolonged experience when the normal grieving process has been interrupted.
Due to coronavirus restrictions, the charity believes the proportion that go on to develop complicated grief will be much higher.
Older people who are bereaved may also experience loneliness, isolation, a deterioration in their physical health and financial worries.
The charity’s research also reveals a lack of awareness among CCGs and councils about the availability and uptake of bereavement support.
More than three-quarters (77%) of local authorities and 60% of CCGs did not say how many people had benefited from services in their area.
Half (51%) of CCGs and 48% of local authorities did not name any other organisations that commission bereavement services in their area.
Of these, 21 CCGs and 49 local authorities did not commission any bereavement services.
Alison Penny, co-ordinator at the National Bereavement Alliance, said: “The findings are a crucial foundation to getting more consistent provision in place across the country so that wherever we live and however we’ve been bereaved, help is out there when we need more grief support than our friends and family can provide.”
Independent Age is calling for the Government to prioritise spending on bereavement services and a produce national strategy led by DHSC.
It also wants CCGs to lead on the commissioning of services, supported by councils, with clear guidance from NHS England on how to do this.
A DHSC spokesman said: “Behind every Covid-19 death are friends and families grieving their loss.
“The Government has acted decisively over the last year with necessary restrictions to control the spread of the virus. This has sadly limited the ability of the bereaved to access many aspects of healthy grieving, including the comfort of family and friends, funerals and other rituals.
“We are committed to ensuring those who are grieving get the support they need throughout the pandemic and beyond, and we have given over £10.2m to charities, including bereavement charities, since March 2020 – ensuring services are there for people who need them.”