Possessions are more precious than our lives

Melanie Bien looks at the skewed priorities of insurance buyers

There may be trouble ahead" was the song accompanying Allied Dunbar's grim reaper television adverts. The message was that if viewers did not face up to the inevitable and take out life insurance, they really would be in trouble.

There may be trouble ahead" was the song accompanying Allied Dunbar's grim reaper television adverts. The message was that if viewers did not face up to the inevitable and take out life insurance, they really would be in trouble.

However, research suggests that not many of us have taken heed of the warnings. A new survey of 1,000 British adults by protection specialist Bright Grey highlights the problem that while we're taking out some forms of insurance, we're getting our priorities all wrong.

Three million pets, 11 million wedding rings and 20 million homes are fully insured, but more than £600bn in earnings and income is completely unprotected. And tellingly, if we lost our jobs and didn't have income protection, we wouldn't be able to pay the premiums on these other forms of insurance.

While almost half of those surveyed (48 per cent) had insured their washing machine, only 49 per cent had life cover. But if you are the main breadwinner and you die before you've had a chance to take out life assurance, your family may well face hardship.

"We insure every one of our possessions to the hilt, but when it comes to the things that really matter - our families and livelihoods - we're either unsure of what we do have, or are happy to let them go unprotected," says Bright Grey's Susan Sneddon.

Fewer than one in 10 members of the workforce insure their own income, says Kevin Carr at LifeSearch, a broker specialising in life cover. "There is a perception problem," he adds. "We get asked: 'Do I get my money back if I don't die?' But people don't expect to get their car insurance back if they don't crash or their home insurance if they aren't burgled. The idea is that you pay a small bit, so the person who does need to claim gets the bigger bit."

Another problem facing the industry is that life insurance and income protection are not the easiest products to advertise. "They are not the type of ads you see in the middle of Coronation Street," says Mr Carr. "It is a very difficult message to get across as it's slightly depressing. The Allied Dunbar ad is the only one that has had any notable success."

However, LifeSearch reports an increase in take-up: the number of life and critical illness policies purchased through the broker last year rose by 30 per cent.

One problem is that often people think they are covered when they aren't: out of the 19 per cent of people in the survey who confidently claimed to have income protection, just 1.2 per cent actually do, says Bright Grey.

"Many people mistakenly think the state will look after them if they are sick and can't work," says Mr Carr.

"But with £73 a week benefit available for those off sick, even if you do qualify for the full amount, it isn't a lot of money. Most insurance policies could pay a lot more than this, with some covering all of your outgoings.

"The state also doesn't provide any life cover. Most employers offer two or four times an employee's income, but not all of them. It is very important to check with your company, when starting a new job, to see whether you are covered."

As with most forms of insurance, it all boils down to affordability. Even if you can only spare around £30 a month towards life cover, brokers should be able to tailor a plan that meets your needs for that amount.

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