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Simon Read: Why I’m backing Seven Families

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The Seven Families project, launched last week by the Income Protection task Force, could prove to be one of the most significant insurers’ initiatives ever cooked up.

With 12 insurers already signed up – including giants such as Aviva, Friends Life, LV=, PruProtect, Scottish Widows and Zurich – it’s a heavyweight affair.

But behind the PR spin and weight of expectation is a simple message: that income protection insurance can make a massive difference to people’s lives. Just ask Britain’s long-term sick, more than 2m of which are struggling to get by on basic benefits.

That the message is important should be self-evident. Any of us could end up in an accident with injuries that mean we are unable to work. And without a financial safety net to help out, making it through those first few months of recovery can be precarious.

The project is certainly an ambitious one.  The charity Disability Rights UK has been charged with finding seven families where the main breadwinner has been forced out of work by an accident or illness and not had any insurance payout.

The recipients will be handed income for a year. The cash will be given on a charitable basis, but paid monthly to replicate what would have happened if they had had the right cover. In essence, they will receive payouts as if they had taken out a short-term income replacement policy.

It’s an interesting concept. But it would be hopeless without ensuring that the families are also helped with rehabilitation.

When I spoke to Peter Le Beau, chairman of the Income Protection Task Force, he explained: “We want to demonstrate that with the right support people can get back to work. There is hope, even after a serious illness.”

That is a very positive message. And it means that the process won’t be a lottery win for those involved. The cash is just the starting point.

The charity and insurers will be working closely with all the families to ensure they get the support they need to get themselves back on track, as far as is possible.

In other words the money is just an enabler. It will enable the subjects to have a little bit more independence. It will enable them to plan for the future, rather than simply trying to cope with living in the present.

Against this background I enjoyed Nic Cicutti’s entertaining column in last week’s Money Marketing about the project. While rightly recognising that it sounds like a great idea, he suggested it’s flawed because it lacks a “community element”.

But there is a huge community involved: the income protection community comprising brokers, insurers and, yes, the media.

Together we can help turn the initiative into something profound, that could make a real difference to people’s lives. Let’s not forget that it is probably the first time so many major insurers have worked together for a common purpose and got widespread support for doing so.

Nic compared the project to the reality TV show DIY SOS. But that, as much as he loves it, is just an entertainment. The Seven Families project has potential to be so much more than that.

The truth is you don’t really help people by just by slapping down some plaster and paint on their problems as happens on reality shows. You have to help them build to a new reality, whether that’s going back to work or adjusting to a new life.

So the key element underpinning the income protection initiative is that families will be provided with vital rehabilitation, not just cash. It’s that rebuilding that is important as it may help someone get back to work, whether in their old job, or in a new role more suited to their disability.

Yes, the process may well provide the emotional ups and down that we sometimes see in the best dramas, but it could also lead to something dramatically different: a financial services initiative that has staying power.

Could we see it becoming an annual event? I do hope so.

 Simon Read is personal finance editor at The Independent and i paper

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