Councillors call for respect towards bereavement staff

Published: Tuesday, 21st April 2020

Four Birmingham councillors have condemned verbal and physical abuse towards council staff in a cross-party statement.

Birmingham City Council’s bereavement services have been under a significant pressure since the coronavirus outbreak, with staff putting in additional hours and working on Bank Holidays to support bereaved families during the UK lockdown. This has included assisting the Council in ensuring restrictions to mourner numbers and social distancing measures at funerals are adhered to.

The new guidelines have been largely respected by the local community, however there have been a small number of instances where staff have been verbally, and on occasion, physically abused.

A statement thanking bereavement staff for their work, and asking Birmingham’s citizens to treat staff with courtesy and respect was sent to councillors and MPs last night by Councillor Sharon Thompson, Cabinet Member for Homes and Neighbourhoods (Labour); and supported by Shadow Cabinet Members Councillor Ken Wood (Conservative), Councillor Roger Harmer (Liberal Democrats), and Green Party representative Councillor Julien Pritchard:

We want to collectively say thank you to Birmingham City Council's Bereavement Services staff for their ongoing efforts and to express solidarity with them at an incredibly challenging time.

The officers working for the Coroner, in the registrar office or in cemeteries and crematoria are at the sharp end of the coronavirus pandemic and they are working extremely hard to help Birmingham's bereaved in a compassionate and professional way.

The difficult decision to maintain the restriction of the number of mourners attending funerals to six - which has the support of all the political groups on Birmingham City Council - was not made by our staff.

The decision was taken by Councillors and senior management to protect both staff and mourners from unnecessary exposure to the risk of contracting the virus, something we would hope everyone should have sympathy with.

We firmly believe that the current limit is correct for Birmingham and must remain in place while the national lockdown continues.

Sadly, in a minority of cases, our staff have been subjected to verbal and even physical abuse by mourners attempting to flout the necessary restrictions imposed to limit the spread of Covid-19.

These actions are simply unacceptable and will not be tolerated, our staff should not have to endure such unnecessary behaviour.

Our staff will continue to support bereaved families and individuals at the toughest of times and we ask that they are treated with the respect and courtesy they deserve.

On Saturday, Robert Jenrick MP announced changes to the ways local authorities operate cemeteries. Birmingham’s cemeteries have been closed to the public during lockdown, only allowing staff and funeral processions access. Since the announcement, the City Council has reviewed its policy on opening hours. Cemeteries will open every day, after burials have been completed, for two hours – allowing visitors to lay flowers and visit graves.

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