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How Does The British Public See The Taboo of Death? 30,000 Were Surveyed & The Results Are In!

The British do not on the whole like being told how to handle their emotions. 


A reserved people that only tend to open up to the world when it is seen drinking quite heavily (normal) during the weekend. A survey by Co Op Funeral Homes run by YouGov has found this to be exactly the case nationwide.

A questionnaire was asked of 30,000 people about death, dying and bereavement. Not the best of subjects to do a round robin on. It’s not a revelation that the British don’t deal too well with death. Some cultures embrace it, others celebrate the death of a loved one in ceremonies which would shock western society – New Orleans aside.
The findings therefore should not be that surprising. The poll was run by one of the UK’s largest collective funeral homes in a bid to aid companies, their workers and charities in further understanding how to help people and in all probability find ways to get future funeral service business too.
What were the findings of this survey? One aspect is that when you translate a percentage of people polled to the entire nation, you get rather a large, ambiguous and often shocking figure. Therefore 33.25% of 30,000 can miraculously turn into the opinion of 17.8 million people in the UK. The degree of error in this could be large. As seen with Brexit.
This 33.25% representing the amount of people uncomfortable about death but the results were combined from two different questions. While both questioned would be uncomfortable talking about death, one party (5 million people) either wouldn’t talk about it and the other (13 million people) would. As they say, statistics…

On to the findings of the survey on death, dying and bereavement:

  • On average, a person is 20 years old when trying to cope with a first death
  • Matching polling of 30k people to the wider nation, approx 18 million of 54m are uncomfortable with the act of death (other people's, I'd be uncomfortable with my own too)
  • 7.58% of respondents suggest they had financial difficulties during and after a funeral, leading pollsters to suggest 4 million people are affected financially and for worse after the death of a relative
  • Co-Op believe the British see death as a taboo and are seeking to normalise the effects so both population and charities can work to better handle bereavement or perhaps the national psyche doesn't wish to?
The general consensus from one of the largest polls about the subject they suggest has ever been carried out, show that the British are overwhelmingly stiff upper lipped and deal with a situation as best they can on their own without asking for help or indeed sharing their emotions with others. Speaking from experience it’s plausible that while feelings are shared, it’s perhaps not in the national interest to suggest that one does.
Death is a very private affair even if it is notoriously public, death notices issued all over the country and hundreds sending in commiserations and turning up for the funeral service proper. The shock isn’t that the poll found the British are uncomfortable or find it difficult talking about death it’s that we British think about our mortality more than we probably should.
  • 93% of women have considered their own mortality as opposed to 90% of men. I believe it pretty standard to ponder that "we're born, we die" It's in almost every song.
  • In what appears a strange coincidence, most people think about their own mortality at the same time their brain stops developing, at around age 26. Or perhaps this is when a large percentage experience relationships, children and the responsibilities that come with those situations.
  • 35% are practically suicidal thinking about their own mortality at least once or twice a week. Another statement which is perhaps linked to the way humans are obsessed with reading about bad news when buying a paper rather than the good in the world. It shouldn't be normal to consider so much death while living life to the full surely?

The poll about death, dying and bereavement is certainly showcasing several national British traits thus far. That the British are tight with their emotions in regards to death, which is private and personal. And that the national media is a self serving beast that propagates the bad of society to sell newspapers on a continual basis.


In fact three of the top ten reasons for considering one’s own future halting were related to terrorism, a celebrity death and news reports of death amounting to a total of 41% as opposed to the top reason and the death of a family member at 28%. This statistic speaks volumes about thoughts of mortality. 


The Co Op have drawn from the results that such a British national taboo of not talking about death and dealing with it properly is having a “detrimental impact” on society in general, because we don’t check ourselves in for a three months course with a psychologist and simply plod and Keep Calm And Carry On. Which admittedly is not the best for a person grieving.

Therefore the British should understand their response to death and grieving does perhaps need a little nudge to the fore because

  • 24% of those polled kept busy with whatever they could, rather than contemplating what had actually happened and the loss
  • 12% of the bereaved go back to work asap, either to get back into the swing and move on or because they are not financially mobile enough to take more time
  • 14% find that their community in general doesn't know how to respond to news of a death and how to comfort or make a situation feel a little better, as impossible as that maybe
  • 16% prefer not to tell anyone - admittedly that's a shock and a little disturbing. As BT used to say, it really is good to talk and get it out of the system.
To carry forward directly from the 16% that hides from death and doesn’t inform anybody, which really is not a good idea. There is the notion that everyone grieves in a similar way. It’s not possible. It could be months for shock to set in, it could be immediate and knock you out emotionally for days. The results of the poll suggest that:
  • 52% find the announcement the most difficult part to handle
  • 46% found the funeral to be just as paralysing
  • Related events also caused a breakdown of sorts, religious events / Christmas 21%, Birthdays 26%, anniversary of the passing 25%

To contrast the results of the poll many may also find the worst part is not the finding out or indeed the funeral but the part in between the two. 


Even when assistance is offered by family members it isn’t always accepted. This is definitely where the British attitude comes into play but quite whether it is the taboo Co Op leads us to believe from the poll results is a question of national identity.


To show further how we could probably better adapt to death is to teach such moral compass values at school, rather than having to learn them ourselves at what is an average age of experience a close relative or friend dying at around the age of twenty. The Co-Op poll about death, dying and bereavement found the following scenarios:

  • It helped if the bereaved was asked if they were ok (41%) but it didn't help when the subject was ignored (14%) or person completely ignored (15%) and made to feel awkward.
  • Undoubtedly while a person, British or whichever nationality feels awkward asking and wondering if they should, most of the time the bereaved feel better if they are approached. With 32%, 19% and 18% welcoming if they are asked if need help, need company or wish to chat.
  • Incidences which were deemed unhelpful were people equating their historic grief with that of the person going through it in the now (17%) or being told to get over it / cheer up (15%)

Two statistics that did stand out early on is how people feel at the time a death is announced. 


Whether it was known to be arriving or was a complete shock the fallout appears to be similar. In that the bereaved, the relatives and family of the deceased find arranging a funeral a very difficult and untimely event to address. Also that 7.58% had financial difficulties pertaining to the arrangement of a funeral.


The 30,000 people polled, said to be representative of the millions at large indicated via a range of other questions that 81% of them had no savings in place for paying for a funeral when they die. Other than money which may be tied up in their Estate or remaining money in a bank account. Rather than a bequeathed order of funding.


In fact 27% of respondents had notarised a formal Will and Testament – which in my view is a remarkably high number and possibly connected to other document requirements such as a mortgage. 6% have a Lasting Power Of Attorney and 5% have put in place a funeral plan which pays for a funeral via monthly instalments over a limited time but keeps a rate of inflation annually until time of need.


When you combine how relatives feel when a person dies, how they feel able to manage situations and cope emotionally. How during this time they have to find the money for funeral services and other arrangements despite their own financial situation and perhaps have a British stance when it comes to death.


Perhaps there needs to be more understanding from everyone including the person dying, as to the effect death has on all in the moment, shortly after and even years after when most should have come to terms with a parent passing away.


Perhaps more funeral homes both national and independent and the Government should support Co-Op’s findings and help the named organisations and charities find a way to better educate society about death from an earlier age and how it is all rather common place. Not to negate emotional fallout or to lessen such but to inform so that the grieving process can be handled better by ourselves and indeed those around us.


In partnership with Co-op are British Red Cross, Child Bereavement UK, Cruse Bereavement Care, Dying Matters, Remember a Charity and Sue Ryder who wish to evoke some sort of social change in the national communities by way of initiating programmes that may follow lines such as:

  • Support networks for businesses and staff to care for their employees
  • To have national dialogue about not worrying about offending someone and simply ask if they are ok, of course they are not ok, but to ask may make them feel better
  • Grieving is a very personal encounter, however psychologically it is good to have an outlet for release. To build better networking to enable more families and friends to take up these options.
  • Using the Education system to better reveal that death has emotional ties and is part of the cycle of life but how we deal with grief is an important part of accepting, moving on yet also remembering a person.

Mental health is at risk long term when emotions are contained for so long and not provided an outlet for release. This in turn effects the building of new relationships, keeping current ones full of life and may lead to loss of employment and yet more financial difficulties down the road.

To get help with paying for a funeral, talk to an expert here.

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