I was fortunate enough to talk to the first person, chosen by Disability Rights UK, who will take part in the Seven Families campaign. A delightful woman called Tracey Clarke who is suffering from optic nerve atrophy. Her prognosis is poor – she will eventually lose her sight and is already relying on a guide dog called Oakley to help her get around.
Tracey, 48, is a pharmacy technician by training, but her failing sight has meant she had to give that up long ago. And as her husband Tim is now her full-time carer, life financially has been tough. The family home was sold to stave off bankruptcy and they now live on a narrow boat, trundling up and down the country’s canal system. They survive on Tracey’s disability living allowance and Tim’s carer’s allowance.
Thanks to Seven Families, Tracey and Tim will receive a £600 boost to their monthly income. It will not be life-changing, but it will let them do a few things a future on benefits would never allow.
For example, they will be able to buy a couple of extra solar panels for the boat, new waterproof boots for the both of them, and a new computer for Tracey complete with software that caters specifically for her deteriorating eyesight. To say she is thrilled with Seven Families is an understatement. She is over the moon.
The cynics among you could argue that to help just seven families in this way is a little meaningless. But I think that would be an unfair judgment.
If the project works and maybe one or two of the seven are helped back to work (Tracey, I know, wants to try her luck as a writer), it could be used as a powerful lobbying tool by the insurance industry against the government as the welfare state continues to be rolled back.
Already, the likes of Zurich have argued for tax incentives to be given to employers who provide income protection schemes and individuals who take it out.
The Association of British Insurers has also weighed into the debate with calls for employees to be given an annual statement showing them in pounds and pence what they will get from the state and their employer should they suffer a debilitating long-term illness or disability.
The thinking behind this is that if employees see the figures in black and white they might be encouraged to make up any shortfall with insurance. It is a sound proposal given that 250,000 people every year are forced to give up work because of illness, many of them becoming immediately dependent upon the state for financial support.