A portfolio from cradle to grave

Half a million people in the UK are being looked after in nursing or residential care homes, and one out of five of us will need paid-for help before we die.

The number who will need help is increasing as the population ages. By the start of the next millennium there will be more than nine million people in the UK over the age of 65, out of a population of nearly 60 million. Thirty years later their number will have risen by 50 per cent.

The pledge made almost 50 years ago that the state would provide care and support from the cradle to the grave is disappearing like snow on a hot stove. Today, we need a portfolio of personal care cover.

Private medical insurance pays for medical treatment without waiting for an NHS bed. This is increasingly popular - not just because of waiting lists but because treatment in a private hospital offers facilities such as a private room with a telephone. So senior managers or the self-employed can stay in touch with business while still in hospital. Cash plans offer a cash payment for every night you are in hospital, NHS or private, and may also contribute to dental and similar treatment.

Permanent health insurance provides a replacement income if you have to give up work because of ill-health. Since middle-aged men in particular are more likely to be seriously ill than die, this obviously merits serious consideration.

Critical illness cover pays a lump sum if you are stricken with cancer, heart attack, stroke or other serious illness from a specified list. Pre- funded care policies offer a "pay now, buy later" approach to paying for nursing home care in old age.

Immediate care cover is for elderly people in poor health. It involves paying a lump sum premium to fund nursing home care starting immediately and continuing indefinitely

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