Group income protection: Tracey Clarke reveals the cruelty of hindsighttracey-case-study.jpg

Tracey Clarke began her 7Families journey two years ago. With her newfound writing skills, Tracey wrote to tell us her story about adjusting to her new life and how 7Families showed her what she could have with income protection insurance.

Life was normal and hectic. I’d had a career as a qualified hospital pharmacy technician, held an advanced driver licence, was independent, active and very busy. Then, in 2011 it all fell apart when I was registered ‘blind/severely visually impaired’.

Career over. Driving licence surrendered. Life shattered.

Sinking into depression and withdrawal, I found it easier to stay indoors and manage without, than go out to even so much as buy a pint of milk. Thankfully, this incarceration was reversed by the amazing gift of a Guide Dog. He restored my independence and confidence.

I got a part-time job that didn’t work out (due to continued deterioration and unpredictability of my eyesight). I was strongly advised to claim whatever benefits I was entitled to. This idea stuck hard in my throat and I resisted initially. However, it soon became evident that it was good, sound advice when I found myself unemployed and unemployable.

Life became increasingly difficult, debts mounted, morale sank. In December 2013, Tim, my hubby, was made redundant. This coincided with further deterioration in my sight and Tim was advised to become my official carer and to claim Carer’s Allowance – all £56 a week of it! Bankruptcy loomed large.

Then we discovered that we could sell our house with just enough equity to clear the mortgage and most of the debts, and buy a narrowboat. Our longstanding dream actually became a necessary reality! Life afloat is cheaper than in a house and, with tight budgeting, is just manageable on our benefits. However, there is no spare for contingency plans.

Introducing 7Families

The 7Families project has been an enlightening and transforming experience. We were the first family to start, and thus to finish the year, and I am sure that many lessons have been learned along the way. It seemed to us that the scheme rather evolved as it progressed. Certainly the early stages gave us the impression of being somewhat ragged and unclear, but, as we moved through the year, it pulled together and became more directed and purposeful. That years’ worth of adventure now gives us a good picture of the aims and objectives of the inspired project.

Knowing that the 7Families assistance was just for one year, we were very careful with the monthly financial gifts. We did not want to become dependent upon them as regular income, so we used them to invest in the future with extra solar panels for the boat to save on fuel; improvements (that we couldn’t otherwise have afforded) to the bathroom and saloon make life more comfortable and a laptop with assistive software for sightless use. These were the key purchases. We were also able to enjoy a couple of niceties including helping our daughter with her wedding, and a slightly less frugal Christmas than we would otherwise have had.

The value of income protection insurance

It has demonstrated the cruelty of hindsight! Many years ago, we had some such policies running. However, we didn’t really understand the terms. Nor did we have any concept of the importance of them. When our finances became difficult, insurance contributions were among the first standing orders to be cancelled.

  • “It will never happen to us.”
  • “There is always a job of some kind to be found.”
  • “The NHS is perfectly good enough.”
  • “That’s what the benefits system is for.”

These were our thoughts. Now we know that none of those is necessarily correct. It most certainly DID happen to us. It was totally out of the blue, utterly unpredictable, and completely unavoidable. Injury, illness or disability can snuff out the ability to hold down any job. The benefits system is scary, complicated and meagre in its offerings.

Aside from the financial impact, loss of independence and employability through illness, injury or disability is frightening, demoralizing and bewildering. The NHS is superb at the beginning of the problem, but there is simply not the provision or capacity within the system to go much beyond the medical needs. Once the initial flurry of tests, diagnoses, treatments, and other clinical activity is over, there is a lot of rehabilitation, rethinking, adjustment and adaptation to be done. This applies just as much to surrounding family members as it does to the afflicted individual. Within the NHS and the state system in general, provision for any of this aftercare is very limited.

Indeed, my personal experience was one of rejection by the system. I still have the consultant’s words ringing in my ears now: “Your optic nerves are dead and withered. They won’t repair. As your sight has deteriorated this far without obvious cause, you can expect it to progress to totality. You’ll have to learn to live with it. There’s nothing we can do.” That was it. Discharged.

A lovely lady working for a sight-loss charity linked me up with a Rehabilitation Officer for the Visually Impaired (ROVI), and provided a handful of leaflets. My one and only meeting with this ROVI resulted in my application for a Guide Dog (for that I am unspeakably grateful!) and a few more leaflets. Again, I was discharged from the system.

Alone in the system

So that was it; left alone in a huge ocean to learn to swim with little more to help than a few leaflets! Actually, at that time, I was not in the right frame of mind to even try to read the leaflets. I really needed someone to hold my hand and lead me through the maze of information and to help to filter out what was useful and what was irrelevant to me.

7Families rescued me, provided me with the means to learn and adapt to my ‘new life’, and gave me renewed hope and opportunity to pick up the pieces and make something out of them. I am now using my laptop and the assistive software to begin to forge a new career using newfound writing skills.

Through the scheme, the insurers filled the gaps in the system by providing:

  • A central hub of information/point of contact
  • Direction for where to turn for further help, support and information
  • Pointers to assistive devices, training, rehabilitation, options for a future
  • A listening ear, a friendly voice simply asking, ‘How are you doing? How are you feeling? How are your family members coping?’
  • Inclusion of family in the whole scenario
  • Training and rehabilitation
  • Further medical help
  • Alternative health practitioners

All of these are important components of the whole adjustment process, but seem to be absent in the state system. They were generously provided by the insurers on the 7Families project as a demonstration of what could have been for us, had we carried relevant insurances. The bi-monthly visits from the film crew, which of course is unique to the 7Families project year and would not happen to typical policy holders, was actually really constructive and helpful. The crew were a smashing bunch of people and certainly didn’t seem intrusive at all. In fact, their visits made us think about and evaluate what we had done, our progress and achievements.

Beyond finances

Access to a worldwide network of experts in the medical field, through Best Doctors, has given me a second opinion from a specialist in America. This has led to further consultations here in the UK, and perhaps more importantly, genetic testing to establish whether or not my sight loss is due to a condition that would affect future generations of the family. Thankfully it is not!

A regular friendly phone call from the RedArc nurse has been an ongoing reassurance and a route to further medical help, even for an unrelated issue, in the form of alternative therapies such as a chiropractor. This has been fabulous and would, I am sure, never have happened in the state system.

Having a case manager meant having a central hub; someone to turn to for at least a starting point for directions and assistance. A person who is not wrapped up in the medical side of the problem has a very different and valuable perspective on the whole person, family and situation. This is an approach that, in my experience, is totally non-existent in the normal system.

So, with the benefit of hindsight, I can now say that I really, really wish we had re-budgeted instead of cancelling those income protection policies. The 7Families scheme was just for a year; just enough to give us a tantalising glimpse of what could have been had we kept up the insurance; just enough to demonstrate the cruelty of hindsight; just enough to make us hope that others don’t make the same mistake that we did.

The way forward for insurers?

I have to say that because of ‘jargon’ used in the information about the various insurance policies, we really didn’t comprehend the meaning or purpose of them. Admittedly it was many years ago, so the details have long since faded in memory, but I seem to recall terms such as ‘death in service’, ‘critical illness’, ‘loss of income’, ‘incapacity protection’ and ‘critical injury’.

Each of these standalone phrases is arguably self-explanatory, but when they are all presented as such a dazzling array of terms on wordy documents, then they really do seem baffling and overlapping. Hopefully nowadays the ‘Plain English’ campaign has improved upon this befuddlement, but I still think there is significant room for simplification.

I refer not only to the terminology used, but, perhaps more importantly, to the actual range of policies on offer. I cannot claim so much as an atom of understanding of the way the insurance industry works, except from the perspective of a ‘Jo Bloggs’. In my very simplistic mind, the ideal policy would be one that covers all possible eventualities of loss of income for whatever reason: an umbrella policy; ‘contingency cover’, ‘plan for the unthinkable’, a ‘what if…..policy’.

Most people think about their pension, their mortgage and perhaps about life cover policies. Some consider private health insurance. Most homeowners pay into some form of house/contents insurance. Loss of income protection needs to rise to the same level of people’s conscious thought as all of these.

Perhaps a ‘contingency cover’ plan could become a standard part of a mortgage package or rental agreement? Maybe it needs to be promoted as just as important as a ‘new for old’ policy on home contents. Could information about it be distributed with car insurance? Ignorance of the need for such protection is the biggest enemy of the industry. As we have found out the hard way, it is also a big enemy of the individual concerned.

Wealth of resources

Through the 7Families scheme, the insurers involved now have a wealth of evidence to use as promotional material. There is a very good range of videos already uploaded. There is also a huge amount of unused footage. This could easily be compiled into a series of information snippets. Personal stories are powerful tools. Those gathered from the seven families need to be used and promoted widely.

The various companies involved in 7Familes have proven their ability to work together within the project. Perhaps they can all pool together to make use of the resources gathered through it. How about a national media campaign, including TV ads? This could be jointly sponsored by all of the companies involved. Maybe a documentary one-off programme or miniseries could be useful to highlight the need for income protection.

You all have this powerful resource at your disposal. The film footage from the 7Familes project; the personal stories, the difference the one year has made to each of the families. Use this material. I’m sure I would be safe to say that each and every one of us on the scheme would say that we wouldn’t want to see others go through what we have gone through since losing our livelihoods. If we can tell our stories more widely to encourage others to get covered, then that would be a triumph coming out of our past mistakes.