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Nic Cicutti: Seven Families campaign may fall short

Insurance firms helping familes hardly has same ring  as tattooed plasterers giving up their time 


I don’t know how many of you watch DIY SOS on the telly. Personally, I’m glued to the set every time it comes on. The show is about a bunch of builders, fronted by “likeable rogue” TV presenter Nick Knowles, who rebuild and radically improve houses on behalf of deserving families.

Along the way, they persuade scores, sometimes hundreds of other tradespeople and suppliers in the local community to donate both materials and their time to help those families.

I first thought of DIY SOS a few weeks ago, after reading about the Seven Families project by the Income Protection Task Force.

According to IPTF chairman Peter Le Beau, the idea is to help “seven families where the breadwinner has been struck down with a serious illness or by an accident and cannot support his or her family financially.”

Peter told Money Marketing: “We will be trying to provide financial help to meet the household expenses that can, if left unmet, create disaster. 

“We will also be trying to provide the rehabilitation that is so vital at times like this that may be
able to help someone get back to work, possibly in their old job or in a new role which they can fulfil more effectively given their disability.”

I will come back to Seven Families shortly. But first, let’s return to DIY SOS for a minute. When it first launched a few years ago, the programme was mostly an amusing riff about helping people to overcome major DIY blunders or finish building “projects” that had been languishing for years.

The turn to a greater focus on “charity” cases probably came after its UK producers watched a similar show in the US called Extreme Makeover. 

There, a loudmouthed madman called Ty Pennington badgers and chivvies a similar army of tradespeople to build an entire house for an “eligible” family.

The entire premise of both programmes taps into an uncomfortable fact, not just about the US but the UK too, namely that the recession has left millions families in genuine need. Maybe the main breadwinner lost their job, or a cash-strapped council is no longer able to fund the daily living aids needed to help look after a sick child in their home.

Whatever the cause, DIY SOS is based on a simple set of premises. 

First, identify someone as “deserving”, in other words not a useless DIYer or a feckless scrounger. 

Second, deliver a life-altering and very visible benefit, like a completely new house. Third, involve the community in the rebuild, so that anyone watching will feel good, even if only vicariously through the actions of someone else.

By the sound of it, the Seven Families initiative hopes to have a similar impact. The idea is to pay the equivalent of up to £20,000 a year to seven so-called low or middle-income families with members who suffer from illness or disabilities.

By doing so – and showing regularly updated results of this support on YouTube over the coming 12 months – the theory is that both individuals and employers might be persuaded that safety nets like income protection can radically affect the lives of entire families for years to come.

It all sounds wonderful. So why do I think it won’t work?

In fairness, let’s acknowledge the key similarity. Like DIY SOS, the IPTF initiative seeks to help families in genuine need, roping in Disability Rights UK to help identify cases that, I’m sure, will tug at our heartstrings.

But after that it all goes pear-shaped. Because unlike DIY SOS, the Seven Families initiative is
not proposing a visually life-altering change, like a completely rebuilt house, complete with open-plan kitchen, new bathrooms, living rooms and bedrooms. What it will offer is, ahem, money.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nowt wrong with money. But the reality is everyone and their dog knows that if you are sick and skint and someone give you 20 grand for one year it may help change your life.

Or maybe not: because one of the slightly uncomfortable features of Seven Families is that for it to work as a social “meedja” project, its premise needs to be that a single 12-month injection of cash is all it needs to set a family back on the straight and narrow.

Which means if, for example, if you are a single parent who suffered a stroke in their 30s and the help you need is about long-term financial assistance to support your young family, you are by definition less likely to feature in Seven Families’ redemptive YouTube tales.

The final problem is that of the community element. One of the big changes to DIY SOS in recent series has been the involvement of local tradespeople and other donors. 

Watching tattooed plasterers with Mohican haircuts and huge beer guts give up a week of their time to help someone in need is part of the show’s main pleasures.
It makes you feel good about yourself.

By contrast, imagine a story about insurance companies which make hundreds of millions of pounds in annual profits chipping in a grand total of £140,000 to help seven needy families.

It hardly has the same ring, does it?

Nic Cicutti can be contacted at 


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There are 5 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. You’re right Nic. Perhaps they just shouldn’t bother making the effort unless they put in more.

  2. So this week we are television critics? Gosh it’s difficult keeping up with you Nic.
    OK here goes-I agree with most of what you have written but surely the point is if we are to help others less fortunate than ourselves we just do it – we don’t make a television programme out of it and try to entertain viewers; the result is likely to be mawkish and embarrassing to watch-bit like Surprise Surprise but (hopefully) without Cilla…..

  3. Andy Couchman 22nd May 2014 at 1:07 pm

    A generation ago perhaps money was all protection insurers offered.

    Today, a massive element on income protection is the 1:1 help given by insurers to help people get back to work and to best manage where life has taken them. We also recognise now that work is essentially good for you and that most people desperately want to get back to work (and it’s usually better for them financially and for their long term health and for the rest of the family who has to live with them).

    But few people really know insurers do that apart from customers who claim and we don’t really promote it as an industry because we’re not sure how to do it or how to measure it.

    Good for questioning this Nic but I think it might just work!

    Andy (Peter Le Beau’s a business partners on other things but this comment is a purely personal one)

  4. Your scepticism may well be turn out to be justified but at least credit them for having a go. Nothing ventured, nothing gained as they say…

  5. There are many issues that will need to be thought through in the detail of the implementation and communication and Nic covers just a few of them.

    It is tempting when confronted with them to shrink away and do nothing – what if we get negative tweets? what if one of the families needs more than 12 month’s support?, what if we get general knocking copy?

    Just for once, people are saying lets take these risks to try and do something worthwhile both for the Seven Families and to raise awareness amongst other families who need to think about the risks they are running.

    As Sting sang “how fragile we are” and our hard won and carefully run lives can unravel so fast without this kind of support to get back on track.

    That is why we at British Friendly “are in” , alongside the giants like Aviva and Friends Life, because I and my team are proud of what we do and know from our claims, the difference we make everyday. We don’t solve all our customers’ problems, but we give them space to recover without the crushing financial pressure.

    So Nic, please keep raising the issues we need to think about in the planning to make this the success it deserves to be, but I think just for once we will have the courage to push ahead.

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