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Nic Cicutti: Seven Families is a comatose campaign

I am about to have a second go at the Second Families initiative, which I may come to regret.

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You may not believe this but most journalists have occasional regrets about what they write. I do not just mean “regret” over a factual mistake or using a wrong turn of phrase but actually about having to write the piece in the
first instance.

If I am honest, it does not happen often. As a journalist, I fulminate against someone or something, even harshly, but I generally pick on corporate or individual targets that should be able to handle critical, even negative scrutiny.

There have only been two times when I have regretted writing something. In both cases, the regret is caused by the fact that sometimes there are innocent bystanders who may be hurt in the process.

The first was in the late 1980s when I filed a story for my local paper about a married man fined for “cottaging” in a public toilet. I found out later he lost his job and his family fell apart as a result of his conviction. In that case, I tried to rationalise my own role by telling myself the story itself was not the root cause of his family’s troubles, it was his arrest.

The second regret is over the column you are reading now. Because I am about to have a second go at the Seven Families initiative, which some of you may recall I criticised nine or 10 months ago, shortly after it was announced.

Seven Families is the brainchild of the Income Protection Task Force, which was “formed to promote awareness of income protection among all parts of the life and health insurance industry and among consumers”.

According to IPTF chairman Peter Le Beau last year, the idea was 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”.

By funding them with up to £20,000 over the next 12 months, Seven Families aimed to prove safety nets like income protection can affect the lives of entire families.

At the time, I criticised Seven Families and said it would not work. 10 months on, I feel moved to return to the project, partly because of an article in last week’s Money Marketing, where Seven Families was mentioned in passing as “ a good start” towards educating the public about the benefits of income protection products.

Separately, a story in another magazine earlier this month attributed a rise in the number of IP inquiries experienced by two main quote portals, The Exchance and iPipeline, to the impact of the Seven Families campaign, which finally launched in November.

Le Beau was quoted as saying: “While we can’t claim categorically that the Seven Families campaign has contributed to this, the coverage across media and social media of the campaign has, we hope, helped to engage people on the importance of this issue.”

Peter’s caution is entirely sensible. To gauge the extent of public interest in Seven Families, I spent time on the campaign’s YouTube account going through the various videos and learning about the four cases so far identified for financial assistance by the project.

Let me state at the outset each of the four individuals are fantastic and inspiring people. Former car dealer Paul Pickford is overcoming a physically devastating brain stem stroke that left him completely paralysed and is planning a return to work.

Nikki Thornley, a police officer, is recovering from a motorbike accident in 2012 that left her in a wheelchair. She is preparing to return to work.

Daniel Pinder was born deaf and has epilepsy. In 2009 he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Tracey Clarke was born with limited vision in her left eye and began losing the sight in her right eye in 2011. She and her husband both became unemployed and were forced to sell their home.

Hopefully all four will be able to realise their dreams, which mostly appear to revolve around a return to the workplace and achieving greater independence.

The problem for me is not the individuals but the fact that, from what I can see, the campaign itself seems so low-key as to be virtually comatose. In the past five months the 12 videos so far posted on YouTube have barely racked up 4,000 views in total.
As of last weekend, the campaign’s Twitter account had a grand total of 425 followers, most of them from the financial services industry in various guises. Its Facebook page has picked up 850 likes in total after six months: I have had friends’ charity head shaves achieve more Facebook likes in three weeks.

It would be easy to blame those running the PR side of Seven Families – half of the £340,000-plus raised from the 18 insurers taking part supposedly goes to pay for this aspect of the campaign.

Yet this it is not really about good or bad media campaigns. The real fault lies with the idea that you can lob a few thousand quid each at seven families in desperate need and hope people will not realise this is a product marketing initiative masquerading as a charity project.

The people I feel really sorry for are the disabled ones used to front the campaign. Still, I might be cynical but Seven Families beats me hands down in that regard.

Nic Cicutti can be contacted at nic@inspiredmoney.co.uk 

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Comments

There are 14 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. “cottaging”. Not an expression with which I’d been familiar. Apparently it means Discreet acts of buggery performed in a toilet cubicle. Well, you wouldn’t commit such acts openly would you? And why limited to a toilet cubicle?

  2. Would you not feel even more sorry for the disabled people, assuming you knew of them, if they did not receive any monies from the campaign?

    And not having seen the campaign myself are you saying that the fact that it is an advert for protection policies is obscured and that it may appear to many as simply a broadcasting of the acts of a charity? I have to say that seems unlikely to me but if it is actually happening I agree it would be scurrilous.

  3. Nic, I sympathize with your dilemma, but do not fret. The families have had a better year than they otherwise would have had, and the money would have helped. But once it has run out they all will have to face an even worse situation with state benefits harder to come by, as well as heartless benefit assessors cutting down their future benefits because the families, shock-horror, may have had the temerity to actually spend some of their windfall, and this may be looked at as if it were deliberate asset deprivation and adjustments made to future benefits to take account of it!
    This experiment to promote IP was just plain silly and looks like a cynical plot to exploit a sob story from this distance. If IP is such a great product, it would be in high demand and everyone without cover elsewhere should be beating the providers door down to grab a plan.
    Sadly, like life cover to protect your family and longer term regular savings, IP has become a luxury good, not as attractive as the six pints of lager per month that would have to be foregone to pay for it.
    It is a sad state of affairs that todays young families do not plan very far ahead and find it difficult to budget. Brand and image seem to be far more important to some nowadays, my Nephew with two children, huge mortgage and credit card debt still buys his food at Waitrose and buys an i phone 6 and drives a new BMW M 135i.
    Does he have IP? No. Does he have CIC? No. Does he have a plan to reduce his debt? No.
    Or maybe it is me that is cynical, driving a cheap to run Citroen, Saving £200 per month and funding my DC pension over and above the company minimums. Does it leave me with enough to enjoy a game of golf? Yes it does. Do I shop at Aldi? Yup!

  4. @ Blair Cann: Look at the 7 Families “about” page on YouTube. NO mention whatsoever of the involvement of insurance companies. Same with Facebook. Look at the website, which only refers to a “charity led campaign”. No mention of insurance companies. Totally dishonest, in my book.

    There’s something else. The other day, on my local TV news, we had a report of a guy who slipped in the bath and is now tetraplegic, paralysed from the neck down and confined to a bed for the rest of his life.

    His wife is now his primary carer and despite the fact that he has been assessed by his local NHS and social services as needing XYZ hours of support per day, his care needs are either not being met at all on some days or are met badly.

    Carers are not turning up, or turning up late, or leaving early, or both. When they do arrive, many have no experience of caring for someone who is tetraplegic, do not even know how to use the hoist he needs to get in and out of bed, or how to met his personal needs.

    The key challenge for someone with a major disability is the daily grind of trying to lead as normal and independent a life as possible. A few grand a year doesn’t even begin to cut the mustard.

    At the end of the day, the cost of insuring for the level of care needed in such circumstances is prohibitive for the majority of people – and their employers. The only way to do it is through society – that’s all of us together – saying that we won’t leave people behind who are handicapped and disabled.

    OK, that’s my own view and many people might disagree with it. But at the very least it is a discussion that needs to be held.

    7 Families doesn’t even attempt to engage in that debate. It hands out money to a few couples and hopes that those who write about it will mention the need to take out insurance to protect against disability.

    It isn’t even a “proper” charity, giving out finite annual sums of money to people in need.

    It is the equivalent of old-style 1980s and 1990s LIA conventions, where widows would be wheeled out on stage to be given a bunch of flowers because their former husbands took out life insurance.

    In years to come people will wonder how the industry could have funded something as fundamentally dishonest and morally bankrupt as Seven Families, using the plight of disabled people to flog insurance to the rest of us.

  5. Nic lives in a cottage doesn’t he?

  6. I purposely waited a day before posting in response to this miserable diatribe from our favourite love-to-hate hack.

    Somebody once accused me of having a glass half full, in Nasty Nic’s case the glass has been drained entirely leaving a foul residue imbued with mock-horror upset and outrage.

    For years the industry has been chafing at the bit, looking for ways of persuading consumers that relying on the state is an exercise in futility. Throwing compelling statistics at them has failed, explaining the inadequacies of ESA has failed and advertising on TV and in magazines has had minimal impact.

    Finally, the industry has found a common cause and this initiative has accumulated a sum of money which has the twin targets of doing good for seven financially bereft families and also promoting the common-sense of protecting one’s income.

    Nobody, apart from Nic, has felt it appropriate to criticise either the thinking behind this or the mechanisms used to promote it.

    If Nic really wanted to make a difference, and actually promote the concept of responsible journalism, he should focus on writing articles that expand on the benefits of protection and self-worth. Of pushing the logic of taking personal responsibility and ensuring that potentially catastrophic outcomes can be salved financially.

    No campaign can be perfect, the funds involved are small in relative terms but let’s be honest here – this is far more than Nic ever has and probably ever will do to promote income protection, and that is the real sadness.

  7. One of the additional areas I should also be learrning more about, clearly, is the importance of caring for people with memory loss syndrome. If I did, I would understand a bit more how someone like Alan Lakey, whom I have managed to consult at least twice for articles on the subject of protection insurance for articles I’ve written in several national newspapers, has somehow managed to completely forget about the experience.

    In the 20-plus years of covering financial services either as a writer or editor I have been responsible for the appearance of dozens of articles on the subject in the national press.

    I don’t expect Alan to know about this. But I would have hoped that he would at least recollect his experiences with me.

    The fact that he doesn’t, that he declines to engage with a single factual criticism about the fundamental dishonesty of the Seven Families campaign, says more about him than it does about me.

  8. Wow, just witnessed an amazing total eclipse of priorities.

  9. Specialist protection advisers – and I consider myself one of these – regularly promote protection to their clients, to journalists, in the press and at events.

    Maybe this is why I have just won the Unbiased Protection Adviser of the Year for the third consecutive year.

    I recall spending almost an hour on the phone to Nic in 1997, when he was at Investors Chronicle. When his article appeared, highlighting him as a knowledgeable journalist there was not even an acknowledgement of my assistance.

    Nic needs to spend more time promoting and less time carping.

  10. As an isolated point I can see where Nic is coming from. On the other hand it’s a largely negative approach and far from a balanced view.

    The charity involved with this is Disability Rights UK. It’s interesting to note their take on 7 Families: “This project is a platform to campaign for improved social security and independent living rights, for everyone.” A cause I’d have imagined Nic would largely support rather than seek to criticise.

    Does it really matter if insurers are backing it or is Nic saying that any benefits are tainted because of their involvement? No one is forced to buy insurance but where’s the harm in education that enables people (who can afford it) to make an informed decision?

    I doubt Nic would get much push-back on the principle that the State should not leave behind the handicapped and disabled. The real question is how much the State provides? Which is, of course, linked to how much individuals should rely on the State and taxation and that’s where politics enters the fray. Gold star benefits demand high taxation and the willingness of the majority to fund that.

    At present the State provision probably amounts to just a safety net. I’m guessing Nic thinks it should be more, I don’t disagree. But that shouldn’t distract from a campaign that aims to raise awareness for perfectly legitimate and positive reasons. Does it matter whether insurers declare their interest? Should Nic have to declare his political and personal interests in every article?

    Nic, let’s get some common sense and proportionality working here rather than the disingenuous aviser baiting and provider bashing we see to often in this column. There are plenty of real and important issues affecting the general public to discuss and raise.

  11. Alan, you weren’t mentioned by me in Investors Chronicle because, er, I’ve never worked at or for IC. On the two occasions when I called you to discuss protection issues in the papers I actually worked for, your comments made the story each time. Given your apparent struggle to remember what happened, I certainly won’t bother calling you again. As it happens, although in most cases any help with a story is reflected in a quote, I never ever guarantee to ANY financial adviser I talk to that what they say will appear. Almost all understand this and are very generous with their time, reasoning that it is preferable to have a better informed journalist who is likely to call them again than to refuse to help with a genuine media inquiry.

    The fact that Alan does not appear to understand this and is so churlish, never mind his incipient vascular dementia, is a major concern.

  12. Alan and Nic ~ You two good fellows really should bury the hatchet (and not between each other’s shoulder blades). What say the three of us meet up for dinner one evening in Reading? I know a really good Thai restaurant not far from the multi-storey car park. I’ll even pay if you like (I owe Alan a favour or two).

  13. Good idea Julian

    Let’s have a summit

  14. I genuinely believe that there’s more common ground between you two guys than you’re prepared (publicly) to admit. You’d be better as allies rather than adversaries. As a non-protection specialist with a largely disinterested perspective on the subject, I might be able to bring to bear some possibly useful impartiality to a face to face discussion (and learn a few things myself). So come on, Nic. You’re surely big enough to give a bit of ground to the opinions of one of the industry’s leading experts in the field of protection.

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