THERE are few things we find harder to talk about than death. Scotland and indeed the UK is not alone in that, although in Britain cultural taboos can be strong.

They come at a cost, however. By shrouding death in euphemisms, by refusing to confront the reality of it, we can often make the experience harder - both for those who die and those who are bereaved.

A rapidly ageing population means this collective averting of eyes cannot continue. From a lack of access to palliative care, to problems with paying for funerals to shortages of burial space, to ensuring people have made wills, we need to become better at dealing with death.

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According to a new briefing from the Institute for Policy Research (IPR) a lack of focus is leaving the UK dismally unprepared for death and its social and economic consequences. Support for the dying and their families is inadequate, as are the benefits that might help them as they face “funeral poverty”.

The good news is that the Institute singles Scotland out as having done more to face up to this problem than our near neighbours. It says Scotland – using devolved powers over health and social security – is leading the way with ambitious targets for providing all those who need it with end-of-life care within four years. Crematoria planning is better advanced and a new Funeral Expense Assistance benefit to be launched by the summer of 2019 is an example of Scotland acting where England appears reluctant to, it says.

Overall the report argues, Scotland has preserved a vision of a welfare state which properly supports its citizens “from cradle to grave” which has largely been lost elsewhere in the UK.

However that doesn’t mean there is not more to do. Funeral costs remain a problem, and ambitious targets are largely still just targets. Although a million people in the UK are caring for someone with a terminal illness, only one in six employers have policies to support them.

It is encouraging that the Scottish Government has used powers and resources provided through devolution to help those at the end of their lives. But there is further to go.

Meanwhile there are wider debates to be had about what constitutes a good life and good death.

In medicine a lack of acceptance of the inevitability of death can get in the way of the best care, and increase suffering. A relentless focus on keeping people alive can mean the best options are ignored.

Some of the evidence is counterintuitive: Research shows that patients with lung cancer who receive palliative care only can do better in terms of living longer, feeling better and having a better quality of life than those whose doctors pursue more aggressive treatments, for example.

Talking about these issues may not come easily, but confronting them is essential.

We have made a start, but we need to transform end of life care and the way we think about it. There is more to discuss.