Pet insurance more popular than income protection

A wheelchair-bound Aberdeenshire policewoman has been chosen to receive a tax-free £1,000 a month for a year from a campaign highlighting the financial impact of long-term ill health or disability.

Nikki Thornley, paralysed after a motorbike crash in 2013, is the fourth beneficiary of the Seven Families campaign, supported by 20 leading insurers and run by Disability Rights UK and the industry's Income Protection Task Force.

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Only 7 per cent of workers have income protection insurance , according to new research last week, while 25 per cent have pet insurance at similar cost.

Thornley said: "I'm still not exactly sure what happened. I lost control of my bike and hit a car. After a couple of days in a Borders hospital, I was transferred to the National Spinal Unit in Glasgow. I spent the next 11 months and one week there away from my husband and two small boys. I don't remember anyone actually telling me I would never walk again, I think it just became apparent over time."

Jason Jaspal from Disability Rights UK explained: "We campaign constantly for much faster and more effective support when somebody's life changes through an accident or health condition. We hear from people daily who have to wait months for assessments (for Personal Independence Payment), while receiving ineffective or no support to resume work. This project will help us learn how different it can be when people do have resources, information and access to support on their own terms."

John Leavey, head of corporate benefits at Benefex, said: "Until something like this occurs, people do not often see the extreme value income protection can bring - both to the employee and their employer. For the employee who wishes to retain independence and dignity and the employer who, having trained and developed that employee, can retain the skills and experience necessary for their business. In these circumstances the financial impact can be severe. Whilst a full time return to Nikki's previous role may not be an option, it does not automatically follow that her skills and experience need to be lost to her employer."

Peter Le Beau, spokesperson for the Seven Families campaign said: "The campaign provides a tax-free income for one year and Nikki will receive £1,000 per month. Each family will have access to financial advice from a range of volunteering financial advisers to help with basic finances and budgeting and they will also have the opportunity to benefit from independent living, rehabilitation and counselling services."

Today in the UK 2.2m people of working age will be off work for at least six months at any one time through sickness and disability and 2.56m people are claiming incapacity benefits.

On average people with disabilities have to spend over £500 a month more in living costs, and people with cancer £570 a month more.

Around 3m people have an income protection policy, either individually or through their employer, which typically pays out 60% to 80%

of your income at work, either until you go back to work or you retire. Some policies cover for a shorter, fixed term of one to five years, and exclusions are less onerous than with payment protection insurance.

Insurers paid out 12,000 individual claims averaging £11,500 a year (91 % of claims) and 14,500 group claims averaging £21,930 (82% of claims) in 2013.

More than half of the UK workforce could struggle to pay their bills if they were too ill to work for over three months, according to an annual survey last week by independent adviser Drewberry Insurance. Almost one in five in the survey had at some time been off work for more than three months, but 50% said they could not survive on savings or sick pay for longer than that.

The average household had to meet bills of £208 a week, almost double the maximum weekly Employment and Support Allowance.

Tom Conner at Drewberry said: "Only 7% of people surveyed have an income protection policy, despite 25% buying pet insurance. This is especially surprising given the cost of income protection and pet insurance are fairly comparable."

A Pet Plan policy for four-year-old 'Rex the Labrador' would be £20.93 a month (basic) or £50.02 (comprehensive). A Liverpool Victoria income protection policy for 30-year-old 'James the Accountant' would cost £19.98 a month, for a £1500 a month benefit for two years after four weeks off, or £42.50 a month for cover until retirement.

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK added: "We also want to test the difference it can make to get fast, effective support when you unexpectedly become disabled or develop a serious health condition, so you can get your life on track. Our campaign is for improved social security and independent living rights, for everyone - not the two-tier system we have at present."

CASE STUDY

Former front line uniformed police officer Nikki Thornley, pictured with husband Phil , has spent almost a year in rehabilitation and adjusting to family life. She now hopes to return to work in a part-time capacity in the coming months and said her employer had been very helpful. "The biggest change to my life has been the transition from being someone who is so fiercely independent to having to ask for help, and I'm still trying to get my head around that now. It has been really difficult, especially when I see our cars flying around with their blues and twos on. However, I'm looking forward to going back work part-time, whatever it is I can do. As long as I'm able to add something I just want to get back to work."