Although one-half of all Britons claimed not to belong to any religion in the latest (2010) British Social Attitudes Survey, 85% of the dying subscribe to some faith, according to a Government survey of their relatives published on 3 July 2012.
The First National VOICES Survey of Bereaved People: Key Findings Report was commissioned by the Department for Health, in line with the commitment made in the End of Life Care Strategy (2008). Fieldwork was undertaken by the Office for National Statistics.
A one in six sample of adult deaths was drawn from those registered in England between 1 November 2010 and 30 June 2011, and a self-completion postal questionnaire was sent to the bereaved informant in November 2011, 22,292 (46%) of whom responded.
The breakdown of ages of death was as follows: under 60 7%, 60-69 11%, 70-79 21%, 80-89 39%, 90 and above 23%. The concentration is inevitably in age cohorts which, in sample surveys of the living, tend to score quite highly on measures of religiosity.
Excluding nil or invalid responses, 15% of the deceased were reported by their relatives as having no religion, 83% as Christians, and 2% of other religions. The proportion of non-Christians is much less than in society as a whole, where they have a relatively youthful profile and thus a lower risk of death.
Asked about the support which the bereaved had received from carers during the last two days of their life, spiritual support received the lowest rating (67% saying it had been excellent or good).
This compared with 80% for support to stay where the dying wanted to be, 79% for relief of pain, 74% for relief of other symptoms, and 71% for emotional support. 19% described the spiritual support as poor and 13% as merely fair.
The combined rating of excellent or good for spiritual support varied by cause of death. It was best (74%) in cases of cancer, with 63% for cardiovascular diseases, and 64% for other causes.
Place of death also made a vast difference to satisfaction with spiritual support: 91% for deaths in a hospice, 74% at home, 74% in a care home, but only 57% in a hospital. This finding could well fan the flames of debate about hospital chaplaincy.
Nevertheless, religious care seems to have been comparatively limited for patients who had been in their own home during the last three months of life. Just 4% of relatives mentioned help by religious leaders, against 20% by home care workers, 16% by nurses, 8% by social or support workers, and 7% by occupational therapists.
The First National VOICES Survey report is available at:
and Excel tables of data at:
Other BRIN posts on religion and end-of-life care include: