Income protection: 'It's the difference between make or break if you find you can't work'

Many of us think we'll never have to stop work due to health issues. But we should buy income protection, says Simon Read
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What do you think the chances are of you being unable to work because of a disability? Slim? That's a common view. In fact research provided exclusively for The Independent by the insurer Zurich shows that half of us believe we have a less than a one in ten chance of being in that position.

In reality, however, 16 per cent of the working-age population will suffer a disability that prevents them from working, while around 300,000 people a year fall out of work and into the welfare system because of health related issues.

The "it won't happen to me" attitude is very common. The truth is that it's really a "I hope it won't happen to me" attitude, but it encourages inaction when it comes to preparing for an eventuality that's more likely than they think.

The research shows that only four in ten people have any awareness of how to protect their income should they become unable to work due to health problems, and few have any protection in place.

Peter Hamilton, head of retail propositions at Zurich, said: "The study shows that few people have adequate protection or savings to protect them against hardship if they couldn't work. There also seems to be a worrying lack of awareness of the support available through income protection, which should form the building blocks of good financial planning."

He points out that in the UK we are seeing a shift of responsibility from the state and employers on to individuals to make their own provision for themselves and their families if they become unable to remain in employment.

"More awareness raising is needed to show people what a difference this sort of cover can make. It often means the difference between keeping or losing the family home or getting access to the best care and support," Mr Hamilton warned

So it's a god time to return to a campaign we've featured on these pages before; in fact it's a year since "Seven Families" was launched to raise awareness of the financial and emotional damage that long-term illness or disability can do to a family and its finances.

The campaign, backed by the charity Disability Rights UK and many of Britain's leading insurance companies, aimed to highlight income protection insurance by handing financial help to seven families for a year.

A year ago we reported on the story of Daniel Pinder, one of the people benefiting from the campaign, who was celebrating his 50th birthday. The panel on the right explains his story before Seven Families got involved. But what has happened since then?

"It's been a great year," Daniel told us. "There's still no cure for my hearing loss or multiple sclerosis but Seven Families gave great opportunities to improve my situation."

He began new treatment and physiotherapy not only to help with his health issues but also to improve his personal wellbeing. "They each have improved me, I hope," he said

The money from the campaign allowed him to buy extra equipment and services. "They've allowed me to improve my abilities. Crutches improved my posture, balance and gait. A wheelchair allows me, on the poor days of MS, to rest and go further afield.

"Meanwhile cooling aids allow me to cope with a rise in temperature without succumbing to severe fatigue."

He has also had electrical stimulation to reduce a foot problem and surgical stockings to help build the tendons and muscles in his ankle.

The cooling scarf and sleeves were really put to the test this summer when the temperature reached 38C, or 105F, he said. "They were originally developed for people working in desert conditions, but they certainly helped me to cope and to continue."

The aim of the campaign is to replicate what Daniel would have received from an income protection policy. It's helped him realise the importance of such cover for everyone.

"Income protection is essential for yourself and family," he said. "I wasn't prepared to deal with the changes to my health, especially with regards to how it affected others as well as me. But the money has helped make a huge and positive difference."

Case study: 'MS almost finished me'

Daniel Pinder was born deaf in November 1964 and then, while still young, was diagnosed with epilepsy. Neither stopped him from getting a degree, starting a family and working successfully as a rehabilitation officer, helping people with limited visibility.

"One thing I really love doing is helping others," he said – "even though I have difficulties myself."

But in 2009 things took a turn for the worse, when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. "In fact it was a year I really don't want to repeat."

At around the same time his marriage hit the rocks and his brother died of cancer.

Despite being diagnosed with MS, he carried on working as long as he could – until, eventually, he had to give it up last year. But with the help of the Seven Families campaign since then, he has improved his situation by being able to start essential treatments and buy new equipment.

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