The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt in every community in the UK and by so many individual families and businesses. Across Yorkshire and the Humber 12,068 deaths have been officially attributed to COVID-19: a rate of 219.3 per 100,000.
All of us in the All-Party Group (APPG) for Funerals and Bereavement within Parliament realise that there has now been much more media attention on this important sector which has often been overlooked in the past.
I recognise how critical the funeral and death care sector has been throughout the crisis, as total UK deaths with COVID-19 is listed on the death certificate have now exceeded 143,000.
So many businesses large and small have had to adapt to meet this unprecedented demand for funerals and other services. My own family business, a woodland burial garden of rest, based on our farm in North Yorkshire, has also seen a significant increase in enquiries, with more interest than ever in the concept of green funerals and sustainable burial.
It is also very important to think about the toll which the pandemic is taking on the staff in the sector, with many having to work almost non-stop for days and weeks on end. Some businesses are now managing 30 to 50% more funerals than usual. They are over-worked and, in many cases, understaffed due to workers having to isolate after catching or coming into contact with the virus. In some cases, funeral services and cremations are having to be postponed, compounding the grief of bereaved families and friends.
As a former Minister at the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and having represented a rural constituency for over fifteen years, protecting our natural environment is incredibly important for me. Giving bereaved families the opportunity of a more sustainable woodland burial and planning a tree instead of erecting a headstone is an important choice for our sector to be able to offer.
Having served in Government in four different Departments as well as in the Whips Office, I am also well placed to advise on the cross-Governmental nature of so much of what we do. I am committed to helping the funeral and death care sector to have a louder and more joined-up voice at the heart of Government. Where the sector finds itself navigating a path through different Whitehall departments from the Home Office to the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, I hope the APPG will be able to be voice of reason, ensuring the businesses at the heart of the funeral and death care sector receive the support they deserve during this critical period in our nation’s history. I am proud to be part of the APPG and will be encouraging other MPs across the House and member of the House of Lords to also get more involved in the group. I would encourage readers to contact their own Members of Parliament and urge them to do them same.
Rt Hon Robert Goodwill - Conservative MP for Scarborough and Whitby since 2005.
APPG Vice Chair of All-Party Group (APPG) for Funerals and Bereavement