A year-long initiative to help raise awareness of the impact on families of long-term illness is drawing to a close. Nic Paton looks at how the project has achieved its aims

health insurance

“Before my stroke I felt 100%, after it I felt at minus 100%; I’m probably now back at zero. So having a bit of financial support and rehabilitation is going to give me that chance to work from 0 up to, say, 85-90%.”

So explained Graeme Snell back in March when his became the latest family to join the Seven Families initiative, the charity-led project launched in November 2014 to raise awareness of the financial impact of long-term illness and disability and, in turn, the value of financial and other support through income protection (IP).

The project was designed to offer seven families with a variety of disabilities a year’s worth of income replacement plus access to a range of other support, including rehabilitation, financial advice, help with benefits claims and so on.

“Seven Families has been a bold experiment,” says life and health insurance consultant Peter Le Beau of Le Beau Visage, one of the driving forces behind the initiative. “It’s been a step into the unknown because when you deal with real lives and real situations you take a risk.

“But it’s been a risk worth taking. We set out to help families in trouble. We’ve done that. We set out to increase awareness in our industry of the financial vulnerability of most families in the UK and I think we’ve done that too,” he adds.

Indeed, on Le Beau’s last point, research published by Seven Families in November suggested that it has raised awareness of IP among advisers, with 31% saying they believed Seven Families had “greatly” raised the profile of IP with advisers, and a further 63% saying it had done so “a little”.

When addressing the need for protection with clients, 70% of the advisers polled said they had found Seven Families useful, with 37.5% saying they had used its material directly with clients during their discussions. The same percentage said they had talked about IP more frequently with clients since the campaign began.

Whether it has had the same impact on the general public is a moot point, however, with consumer research by Seven Families published at the same time highlighting that, while 80% said they had heard of products such as IP, just 10% had taken out such cover.

A fifth were blithely confident the state would provide for them if they could not work, and a further 19% had not given the issue any thought either way.

Raising awareness

So what, then, should the verdict on Seven Families be one year on? And is it possible to make the case that the impact it has clearly had with at least some advisers could mark a turning point in the popularity of the group protection market?

The first point to make about Seven Families is that, while it was originally intended to last just a year from November 2014, the fact families such as the Snells and a number of others only came on board during 2015 means the timeline has been extended.

The initiative will now continue, and some families will continue to be supported financially well into 2016. But, given the one-year cut-off: is turning the financial taps on and then off in this way problematic?

Paul Avis, marketing director for Canada Life Group Insurance, says: “The client families have benefited massively from this intervention. With the rehabilitation support they have received they are in a much better state to return to work. The contract they signed was clear that the support would only run for one year.”

However, Avis emphasises that the counselling and rehabilitation side will continue for as long as the families need it, and it is the value and effectiveness of this that, for him, has been one of the most important learning points of the project.

He says: “One of the challenges has always been evidencing the great work done around rehabilitation, as often it is going to be confidential. So one of the key benefits is that we’ve been able to show what can be done by focused case management support.

“Most employers would have written off the sort of people the Seven Families campaign has been working with. But through the campaign we are able to see the potential for even the most significantly disabled people to work again,” he adds.

Nick Homer, corporate propositions manager (group protection) at Zurich Insurance, agrees. “Seven Families is an excellent initiative – to be able to help vulnerable families but equally to show the sorts of situations where IP can make a difference: how when you lose your income how important it can be.”

He adds: “Active intervention and support more broadly can be very important in helping people back into work; to help people manage their lives better or to explore other opportunities.”

John Ritchie, chief executive of digital group risk insurer Ellipse argues: “For me this is only the start; we have an opportunity to really think about what this type of insurance does.

“As a sector we are grossly under-invested when it comes to communications capability; we are behind the curve with social media; we have to be less self-protective and more direct in our language. I think it is a great project; it could really change some of the lazy perceptions that exist about disabled people.

Meanwhile, Nick Homer, corporate propositions manager (group protection) at Zurich Insurance, says: “For me, one of the huge achievements is that it got off the ground at all; it really showcases the consequences of ill health and of failing to make provision in the form of IP.”

The role of GIP

But Jackson questions whether the value of Group Income Protection (GIP) – and therefore the important role an employer can potentially have in supporting someone with a disability – has been promoted or articulated strongly enough within this.

“The workplace can be an incredibly powerful place in which to solve health problems. For example, GIP can typically be a third of the cost than if you go out on to the market to buy IP for yourself. You can also get insured pretty easily because with a lot of group schemes you do not get medically underwritten,” he points out.

And Steve Bridger, managing director for group protection at Aviva, is also sceptical as to the extent to which Seven Families is, or will mark, a turning point in IP or GIP.

“Anything that promotes income protection to the public and helps increase awareness of the support it can offer families is a huge positive. The stories from the Seven Families campaign are extremely moving and very powerful,” he says.

“But it’s probably too early to tell how much impact it has had on the awareness and take-up of IP, both in group risk and through individual policies. But what it has done is given advisers and employee benefit consultants an opportunity to speak to clients about what IP can offer financially as well as the additional support and rehabilitation services that are available.”

To an extent therefore, even if it were unintentional, perhaps it is a good thing Seven Families hasn’t flared for a year and then disappeared. As Le Beau makes clear, there is still a real opportunity for the industry to ensure the project’s legacy is much more than simply seven deserving families gaining help and support.

He says: “Much of the ultimate impact of the Seven Families depends on how much people in the industry use the material it has created and how much they care about trying to improve the situation that confronts so many families. That is what will determine the extent of its success.”