Episode 5 | Breaking Barriers

Hi Everyone!

We are absolutely thrilled this week to be joined by our first guest, Mike Adams OBE. Mike is an incredible speaker and advocate for improving access to products and services, for people with disabilities.

Mike’s organisation Purple have gained significant attention in recent years with Purple Tuesday, a day where all organisations are asked to truly think about how they can improve access to their offerings.

This mindset to improve accessibility, shouldn’t just be one day a year, it should be embedded in a company’s ethos. In this episode we talk with Mike about how the insurance industry has made big improvements to improving access to insurance and we also chat about where things could still be better.

Our 3 key takeaways:

  1. The consumer spending power of the disabled community, the Purple Pound, stands at £249 billion per year!
  2. For years people with disabilities have asked for and many have been denied support to work from home. The coronavirus lockdown has shown that this is possible for many organisation to adapt to employees working from home.
  3. There are roughly 300,000 people per year that need additional medical underwriting for protection insurance. Insurers need to develop ways to adapt their medical underwriting processes, due to the limitations on medical resources that coronavirus is causing.

We hope that you enjoy this episode. Mike has a wealth of experience and knowledge on how to break down barriers, so that people living with disabilities are treated fairly by organisations. We hope that his message of a continued need for equality in these troubling times, is heard by all.

As with all of our episodes, we love your feedback! Please let us know what you think and if you have any suggestions for future episodes pop up a message.

Next time we are focusing on Multiple Sclerosis

Kathryn: Hi everyone, this is episode five and today we have our first guest on the podcast.  It is Mike Adams OBE from Purple. Hi Mike!

Andrew: Hello Mike.

Mike: Good morning.

Andrew: So first up, a quick warning on the potential for noises off during this podcast.  As I’m sure all of you listening are in the same situation, we – we are in various different places this morning so as well as the three of us from our temporary offices, we have children, cats, rats and who knows what else ready to make guest appearances.  But notwithstanding that early excuse, the most important question I guess now more than ever is: how are you both doing in these fairly surreal times? So Mike, how – how are things for you?

Mike: Surreal Andrew, you’re absolutely right.  Unprecedented – the word that is in the lexicon as the new word.  It’s strange. I’m sitting in the office at the moment. We have half the team in so we do two things – we support businesses to support disabled members of staff and customers and we also support disabled people to live independently in the community, employ carers and agencies.  And it’s absolutely vital that we see – we are seeing 6,000 carers going into the homes of disabled people, to get them up, get them dressed and give them a level of independence.  

And at this time, it’s absolutely critical that we can pay these individuals every week and provide the support and employment, advice and guidance needed and, you know, we have the challenge of turning what is an office-based operation remotely and we have agreed as a team that we need to do it collectively and we need to do it safely.  So we are working 18 hours a day to try and turn the whole organisation remote in a safe way because I think this is going to be a number of weeks and at home I have four children. I have a 12-year old, a seven-year old and two 10-month-old twins and a mother-in-law that’s living with us as well at the moment so it’s a very crowded house, a noisy house and part of me wants to delay the transition to remote working for as long as possible but I know that’s not responsible either.  So it’s absolutely intense in many ways at a time when the world has gone so quiet.

Andrew: Mm, and how about you Kathryn?

Kathryn: Well I was just saying to Mike beforehand, it’s been a bit strange for us.  I mean, we’ve been able to adapt really quickly as a business to working from home because we kind of had that set-up in any case for people anyway just in case they don’t feel well enough to come into the office.  So everybody’s kind of already got those encrypted laptops and things to work from home. But what’s been really strange for us is that obviously – we live in Filey which is in the middle of nowhere, a little town on the coast and coronavirus is here.  We have somebody local who is very, very seriously ill in hospital right now.  

Alan’s sister, they believe, has it.  She has some – she’s had the test done and there’s some higher – sorry the high level readings of this certain kind of – I don’t know what you call it – the ‘flag’ within the readings to say – suggest that it’s coronavirus.  And she has really, really bad asthma and has been significantly ill but is luckily – touch wood, she is getting better. She hasn’t had to go into hospital. She’s been getting better but it’s been very unusual because of the fact that two days before she was tested, myself and Alan saw her.  We did the usual thing because it was before all the social distancing and everything. We hugged, we were kissing on the face and everything like that.  

So it’s very likely that we’ve had it as well and I’ve just had my – this was about two weeks ago now – so if we have had it, touch wood we are through what should be the thing but I’ve had headaches, sore throat, you know, just generally not feeling great.  But not bad at all which is really, really fortunate. But my five-year-old has just woken up and said that he can’t taste anything properly and that he’s got a sore throat. So now I’m just – I’ve sat him at Alan’s just before I came upstairs before I left him with the three of them.  I was like ‘You watch him like a hawk.’ You know? ‘You absolutely watch him.’  

And so just a little bit worrying.  I think anything and everything and you kind of then start to think ‘Am I thinking too much of this though?  Because it’s a sore throat and it’s a headache.’ You know? That could be anything, that could be stuck in the house for two weeks, you know, with central heating and everything and I think we’re just all so unsure of what’s happening and I think, you know, obviously everybody’s scared and we don’t know what’s going on and it kind of feels as well as if there’s nowhere for correct information.  I don’t feel like – if I look on social media – I never look on social media for true information of anything in all fairness because you just get so many different things out there.  

But, you know, there’s just so much going around now and so many opinions and the news just seems to be conflicting all the time as well and it’s really, really hard.  So I know I sometimes just see – there’s some doctors on Twitter that I see and I’ve seen them for a long time. They’ve always made sense so I’m kind of – I’m watching what they’re doing and I’m watching what they’re saying because I’m thinking ‘Right, they’re an official doctor.”  So hopefully, you know, they have all the – the true stuff there in front of them. But definitely strange times adapting from working from home. I’m shattered and I think every parent in the world is shattered right now! And – but I’m incredibly grateful at the moment because we’ve got a garden and I just keep thinking about people who maybe don’t have gardens and stuff like that and think ‘How on Earth are they coping with kids and stuff or animals?’  Or anything and yeah – how are you Andrew?

Andrew: I’m alright, compared to you two! [all laugh]  I’ve only got two kids. I’ve only got two kids, I haven’t got a team of people.  So, yeah, I mean it’s – joking aside though, I think I am in a – look it’s – it’s tough, it’s still seven-year-old and five-year-old and all of that stuff that comes with that.  Work is – obviously for reasons we’ll talk about – busy.

Kathryn: Yeah.

Andrew: But less urgently, let’s be honest – and all the stuff that you deal with Mike.  I think my main challenge is – is actually probably upwards to parents who you start off doing the ‘Call any time,’ and my parents are all about 70, touch wood fairly healthy.  But suddenly you, you know, you have to remind them that when they start calling you at three every day, you – you’re doing other stuff. And, you know, the 45-minute call with Dad that’s a lovely chat to have but you kind of, ‘Dear me – that’s in my – that’s in my – my half-day working time Dad.’  Yes, it’s – we’re all getting used to different situations and I think we’ve all now said something that means that we can’t share this podcast with our friends and family. So we’re all level now. So we can crack on.

Kathryn: I was going to say as well, I don’t know if you two are having this issue either, but I and many other people, especially in our area, it is impossible to make your parents stay at home.  So my Dad has Parkinson’s disease. He had an emergency stoma fitted in December. He’s meant to have deep vein surgery and he and my Mum are just like ‘Well we’ll just go for a walk. We won’t see anybody, it’ll be fine.’  And I’m like, ‘I’ll bring you stuff. Just stay home. Just don’t do anything.’ And they’re just like, ‘Oh we’ll be okay.’ And I’m like ‘Seriously, just stay at home!’ And they’re saying to me ‘But we need to protect you,’ and I’m like ‘No, no that’s not how this virus works this time.  I actually really need to protect you right now.’ And I think everybody’s probably finding that with their parents at the moment. They’re just very, very disobedient.

Mike: I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to my Mum so much.  I’m doing the ‘How are you, Salvation Army, Samaritans’ kind of call every other day.  That I think is probably freaking them out more than reassuring them.

Andrew: Yes.

Mike: And then I said “How are you doing, you know, bunkered down in the house?” and one they are desperately sad because their 10-month-old twins are growing up –

Kathryn: Yeah.

Mike: And they’re not seeing them and my Dad’s 80 in July and Mum’s 79 and, you know, and they do realise the seriousness of what’s going on and then I said “Oh, how are you coping, you know, not going out at all?”  “Oh well we’ve been out once because we need to get exercise and Edith down the road, she’s 93 and so we’ve gone to get her some food.” So, in some ways I – you see it on the news about the community spirit –

Kathryn: Yeah.

Mike: And building that community and I’m hearing it and that is really lovely but I – I do worry about – in our business that the level of isolation and getting the balance right and, you know, what the state of the nation will be in October, November – and I was talking to a business contact last week and he said they left the office so quickly that he wasn’t able to take home any of his office chair or proper equipment and he’s found himself in a kind of shoe cupboard working eight hours a day at home –

Kathryn: Yeah.

Mike: Crouching over with his neck turned to one side and his back turned to one side doing all these Zoom calls.  And you can see that – just an explosion of mental health and physical health issues in the autumn as – as people have been cocooned for so long and it’s really difficult to say anything else because in many ways the message is ‘Stay at home unless it’s absolutely essential.’

Kathryn: Yeah.

Mike: And we’ve given a letter to all our staff because the fear now of being pulled over by the police on the way to work, you know, about it being essential – but I’ve been very clear in the letter that if any of our staff are caught, you know, work – we do not work weekends or – well, we work from home at weekends and we’re not doing any visits and so the letter is very explicit about, you know, travelling in the morning and in the evening.

Kathryn: Yes.

Mike: So there is a real need to reinforce the social distancing and – but I do fear for the population and the growing numbers of people with mental and physical disabilities that may emerge as we emerge through this.

Kathryn: Absolutely.

Andrew: So shall we – getting I guess to the – what this podcast would have been about when we agreed to do it six weeks ago?

Kathryn: Yeah.

Andrew: [laughs] And probably if we go for a chunk of – of that now and I’m sure – I think towards the end maybe if we come back to some of the reflections on – on coronavirus but maybe from a more technical perspective and you’ve already picked up some of those really important ones there Mike, that I think that’s – I think that highlights why we wanted to speak to you because we come at a lot of the same issues from a different perspective but then there ends up being these, you know, very shared points of relevance and interest.  So maybe Mike, if you want to just – just only for a couple of minutes just go back through in a bit of detail what it is that you and the organisation there do and I guess how you – maybe focusing more on you personally, how you’ve got to this point in that?

Mike: No absolutely and so I’m Chief Exec of Purple and I describe Purple as an organisation that sees disability differently and as I visualise what I want to do is – is take disability from being perceived, seen as a welfare, vulnerable people issue – an issue that is addressed primarily by the State and turn disability into a valuable – a value proposition.  Seeing disabled people as talented individuals and a talent pool for being employees but also being seen as disabled – customers in their own right and wanting and driving a quality customer experience. And – and that – that shifting of the dial, that shifting of where disability is positioned involves society taking disability and seeing it in a very different way and behaving in a different way and approaching it in a different way.

And we believe that if we can do that then we fundamentally address or start to address inequality for disabled people in our society which is why I get out of bed in the morning and if you – if we wind back six weeks, two months, I would have said “Look – look at the metrics, look at the metrics on employment.  Look at the metrics on education. Look at the metrics on poverty. Look at the metrics on access to leisure.” Disabled people are disproportionately disadvantaged in all of those metrics and quite frankly you’ve had the Disability Discrimination Act, you’ve had the Equality Act – that really has not shifted the dial as much as it should have and therefore we have to fundamentally rethink how we kind of reshape that kaleidoscope.  

And we’ve used the Purple pound, the consumer spending power of disabled people and their families that stands at £249 billion a year and rising at 14 percent.  And that is a huge, huge number and I’ve defied – I’ve been into corporates, I’ve been into SMEs and said “If you have a member of staff that comes into your boardroom or into your meeting and goes ‘Look, I’ve found the new market, it’s potentially worth £240 billion a year.  The great thing is only 10 percent of businesses have even thought about it. And what’s even more brilliant is the way to access that market is a change of mindset. So it’s not really going to cost us anything.’”  

And we have started to see that really starting to move and I’ve always said the international sign for disability which is the wheelchair sign has done brilliant across the world, it’s really raised the profile.  But the wheelchair users – they reflect seven percent of the disabled population and 80 percent of disabled people will walk into a shop, walk into a restaurant, walk into a hotel, walk into an office and you won’t know that they have additional needs.  And it’s about a mindset, it’s about asking the right type of questions, it’s about a customer experience and –  

And partly this is why I’m excited at being on this podcast today, because I’ve talked to Kathryn before – I can see the huge opportunity that the insurance industry can play in delivering these objectives, delivering the repositioning of disability through employing talented individuals and providing a good quality customer experience.  And I can see it happening and then of course what has happened has just happened and – and my fear is that we will go back a long way when we start to emerge and perhaps we’ll pick that up later.  

But that’s who Purple are.  That’s who we do and we’re working with some really progressive organisations who see the business case for disability and we talk, Andrew, about blending kindness and commerciality and I think in 2020 if you’re going to get organisations to buy into this and buy into this because they want to do the right thing by their business and they want to do the right thing by their staff and they want to do the right thing by their customers, then you have to find that mix of commercial and social objectives to – and give them the tools to be able to apply the common sense, apply the approach and to do it properly.

Kathryn: I think that’s absolutely brilliant and I was going to say something that sort of resonated when you were talking then about the people with disabilities and their employability.  And not to sort of like focus primarily on coronavirus or anything but I’m seeing a lot of things as well on social media and a lot of things from people who are disabled on social media, saying ‘So hang on a minute, for all these years you’ve not been able to adapt work so that I can work from home and so that I can do this and keep doing things and now, you know, we’re seeing it now where anybody is suddenly having to adapt and work from home.’  

We are opening up the doors, we’re doing the Zoom meetings and I have to say, you know, we did a – I was at a conference not long ago where somebody was there by video rather than in-person and it did – it was different.  You know, if someone’s there in person it can make a huge difference and a huge impact to the atmosphere but for meetings and stuff like that, for everyday running – running of a business, then really, you know, we’re seeing that all these companies have these huge, huge businesses in Central London or in the cities and they’re paying extortionate rates for these buildings and really all they need to do is a bit of an adaptation – a lot of the work force can work from home or possibly opening up avenues for people with disabilities who can’t get into the office.  

So you’re kind of thinking ‘Well if some big corporate’s going to turn round and go ‘Well hang on a minute, we’re paying how many hundreds of thousands of pounds at least a year –’ well possibly even a month in London, I don’t know, I’m a simple northern person, I don’t know the pricing.  ‘You know, on these offices, when what we could do is not have that open, we could have a cheaper office elsewhere and then a lot of that money could then be distributed to a broader workforce who, you know, at the moment they are a massively untapped potential.’

Mike: Well I’ve seen – I’ve seen – and I’ve seen a lot of people in the disability community and we use in employment terms ‘reasonable adjustments’ and – and the battles that employees have had with their employers to make reasonable adjustments for that individual to be hugely product – have a level of productivity in that organisation and that includes often buying a piece of IT software at £300 to enable that to happen and the battles about whether that is reasonable or not.  And suddenly overnight UK plc has absolutely created the biggest reasonable adjustment in working lives ever. And I’m going to capture all of this because when I stand on a platform again in October, November, I will be saying to businesses “Do not ever, ever tell me again that you cannot make simple adjustments.”  

And I hope if anything good comes out of this, we will start to reconceptualise and realise that actually what we’re talking about – and by the way, let’s just keep remembering this – what we are talking about is about tapping into talented individuals and tapping into consumers which is the benefit of the companies themselves and their relationship with disabled people.  So yeah, absolutely, reasonable adjustments – and given what’s gone on now, is really, really straightforward.

Andrew: That’s great.  And I guess – I guess then by moving into your experiences with financial services or insurance specifically, either for you as an individual or the things that your organisation sees.  I know – I know you’ve worked with the likes of Johnny Timpson and Kathryn at Cura that – I mean obviously there’s overall a lot of challenges in our world and it would be good to hear, I guess, from your side some of those that you’ve seen or to get your impression of that to this point.

Mike: Yeah.  Yeah, absolutely Andrew.  If I start with my own experience as I started my working life quite a number of years ago but it was striking that – I’d done an economics degree and no disrespect to economists but we’re a quite boring lot, you know, and very risk-averse.  As I say – and I was one of them and at 21, 22, I – I decided that, you know, I was going to invest in all sorts of things for a rainy day that of course never – it never was going to happen. And I wanted critical illness cover, which 21-year old, 22-year old in those days didn’t really apply for and we went through all the forms and then suddenly there was this kind of off-hand ‘Oh and by the way do you have a disability?’  ‘Yes I do.’ And suddenly the whole conversation just ground to a halt [laughs].

You’ve got to take this back however long it was but it ground to a halt ‘Oh, well that might be a problem.’  ‘Oh, why will that be a problem?’ ‘Well because, you know, we’re going to have to ask you all sorts of other questions.’  And to cut a long story short, I got my critical illness cover at a huge premium and they were explicit in saying ‘Because you are disabled,’ and I said ‘But why because I’m disabled?’  ‘Oh, you don’t know – you know, it’s a technical reason but because you’re disabled and by the way, if you were to end up with a critical illness that had paralysis involved for example, you wouldn’t be covered.’  

And we went through the whole loop of ‘My disability has nothing to do with paralysis whatsoever.’  ‘Well that is what we’ve been told and if you want critical illness cover, you have to accept the terms.’  Which I did and I did on the basis that it was highly unlikely that due to my disability I had any greater chance than Kathryn or yourself Andrew of – of getting paralysis.  But I know from my peers who I then persuaded to get critical illness as well who were non-disabled but their premiums were a fraction of what mine were. And I guess that was my introduction and throughout – when you buy a house and your life insurance and all of those things, the issue that’s continued to come up and I can only say to you – and it’s not totally scientific, but if you look at my insurance cover in relation to peers of a similar ilk, I am paying more.  

And if you strip out all the variables that it could be, I suspect disability still remains one of those where there is an indirect premium that I am paying.  And I think that is – that the – disability still in many areas is a hot potato, you know? It’s something that the scripts – if the word comes up or words that are synonyms to that – the word comes up, you know, you’re into a whole set of other questions and I – I’ve spoke with Kathryn and Alan a lot and the nature of the business, you do have to get personal and I totally understand that.  It is totally reasonable to understand that but it’s how you interpret and how you translate what you hear and how you then determine whether that means that you are a higher risk or not.  

And think my plea to the insurance company as a – as a Chief Exec of Purple and someone who wants disabled people to be an integral part of the community whether it’s as a customer or employee, is don’t disadvantage – don’t disadvantage us just because of a word that means that historically you’ve been able to just put a premium on because it’s an unknown risk.

Kathryn: That’s a really good point.  Is that generally what you see or what you hear from people is that – is that same – still the same experience that people are getting now when they’re going for insurances?  So they are still seeing – are people feeling like there’s a lot of barriers and inequality when they go for the cover?

Mike: Not if they come to you Kathryn but –

Kathryn: Thank you! [laughs]

Mike: Generally yes and generally there’s still this fear factor of having to disclose to people who they’ve never met before some really quite personal details and knowing that at the end of that process there is a sense that you’re going to get penalised in your premiums for that.  And I – and I think – I think that is out there and I think it’s easy to disabuse and this is why I think the insurance companies can be at the forefront of that shift in vision that I think we need to see and which Purple is about.

Andrew: Yeah, that all makes sense.  I mean I think – and obviously Kathryn and I live and breathe this I guess every day and I – I don’t think there’s any pretence that where we are now is – or where the insurance industry is now – is anywhere near perfect.  I guess to your example there Mike, I still think that would happen today. And the two crunch points are the – I guess, how fair the decision is and how well it’s explained. I guess that’s – I guess as a technician the bits that I hear and there’s both of those are equally in need of focus and, you know, that kind of challenge of – I think sometimes – I think most – I guess my view would be most of the time the decision that’s made now is fair, is reasonable.  

That’s the – you know, we’ve mentioned acts today – is reasonable but, you know to have that, to convince people of that and to have a conversation as to whether that’s true or not, you need to be able to explain ‘Well why, how have you come up with that decision?’ and not just kind of pass it down the line as a ‘Well it’s probably something like this to fill in the gaps.’

Mike: And I tell you what Andrew, if you are correct and that would be brilliant if you are, then the challenge before the insurance industry is one of persuasion, one of communication and one of inclusion which quite frankly is much easier to achieve than the technical challenges that may have, you know, been out of date five, ten years ago.

Kathryn: So something that we’re seeing a bit at the moment as well, because obviously we are talking about barriers to insurance and what people can expect and things.  So we are seeing, again I’m not wanting to – I seem to be just talking about coronavirus every time I start speaking so I do apologise but it isn’t a script about coronavirus again so we have seen within the insurance world that for anybody, for income protection with some insurers, some of their policies have been in a sense withdrawn for new applications.  Some of them now have exclusions on in regards to the income protection so how, if it kicks in sort of like at certain time periods, there’s some coronavirus exclusions on there now because the income protection suddenly got swarmed with people being interested in it because everyone is scared obviously about losing income.

And in many ways it’s absolutely brilliant that so many people want income protection now but it’s just really unfortunate that there’s just been this huge, huge swarm of people and – just for anybody who’s sort of like – I think we brushed on this a little bit on this last time Andrew – so, you know, the difficulties with some insurers if they suddenly have everybody to take out the policy now and then once coronavirus in a sense dies down, they’ve all made a claim but then they close their policy down in say October, then the insurer’s going to be left with not enough financial reserves to be able to carry on supporting everybody and anybody who maybe has a longer term claim.  It’s – it’s lots of – it may sound quite bad that in a sense of well it could – it’s kind of – it’s coming down to a business sense, but ultimately they are businesses and they need to be profitable to be able to support everybody and fulfil the promises that they’ve made to existing people already.

But we are seeing a change in regards to some of the other protection policies, so the life and critical illness cover and I think this is probably something – so we’ve touched on it a little bit before the call and was something you touched on a little bit earlier Mike, in that there are a couple of insurers – and that’s not the majority, it’s just a couple of insurers – that have essentially closed their doors to anybody who’s applying for the life insurance, critical illness cover or the income protection if it doesn’t go through – straight through on their online systems.  Now I’m sure that there’s a lot of people who will be in the boat where they can go straight through on their systems.  

I obviously tend to see most people who can’t go through on online journeys and I’m sure that a lot of people that you’ll be aware of Mike, would be in the same situation.  And it’s really, really unfortunate because, as you say, it’s kind of – for that couple of companies – it is a big step back. Others are looking to adapt and to make changes where they can.  I think it comes down to kind of that ethos that – kind of like we were saying – kind of like that company ethos as to what you want to do ultimately for your customers. And Andrew, I think you may probably have some suggestions as to what I know some insurers are potentially doing or looking at doing to see if they continue to support people. 

As an adviser, what I always do with clients is I say to them ‘Right we’re,’ you know, if we’re going to be going down the need for medical reports from GPs and stuff like that, I’ll always say to them as well ‘Do you have any medical reports at home?  Do you have the facility to scan them? Any specialist letters? If you do, send them to me on my secure systems and we can potentially bypass the need to go to the GP.’ I think some insurers are now actively putting that kind of message out there to a lot of people to just say ‘If you’ve got medical stuff, get it to us.  We’ll see what we can do. We’re trying still as much as possible to get you under cover.’  

But Andrew, have you seen any changes that you think are going to be working well or not so well?

Andrew: Yeah, yeah, it probably is worth just giving context of numbers as Mike did incredibly well with, I guess, what the prize is and what the challenge is on that side.  So, you know, for individual protection, so for life, critical illness, income protection, there’s about two million new policies written a year in the UK. And, depending on the insurer, between 10 and 20 percent you would be getting GPRs – reports from your doctor and probably another five or 10 percent you’d be getting medical evidence from someone else.  So you do the numbers and you quite quickly get to let’s say three or four hundred thousand people a year who are – who insurers are asking for extra medical evidence on – I guess, you know, in Mike’s situation it probably comes on that last question where suddenly there’s ‘Ooh well actually, we can’t just complete this on an easy application form or system.’  

So it’s big – I guess, the reason for that preamble is, it’s big numbers.  We’re not talking about one or two people here or there, we’re talking about lots of people who, you know, for their family, for their house move, whatever, may be, may be in a very different situation going forwards.  You’re right Kathryn, there’s lots of different ways that people could go about things in this spirit of adapting through this time so we’re – so I guess the ideas out there that are being discussed are using tele-interviews rather than traditional medical exams, using video interviews rather than nurse screenings.

Kathryn: Can you just explain a tele-interview please Andrew?

Andrew: Yeah, so a tele-interview is a nurse typically or sometimes an underwriter going through a set of questions, I guess bluntly in more detail than the typical adviser or salesperson would.  So typically those calls would take about an hour. They’d go into detail where detail needed to be gone into. So there’d be a script but – but generally that person would have permission to go off-script as well.  And in essence it’s getting – it’s trying to get as close to all the information and especially all the information the individual knows about their own condition, which I think – without putting words into your mouths – I think often we’ve discussed this on a previous podcast Kathryn on rare diseases – often that individual will know at least as much or more than what’s in their – what’s in their GP reports.

Kathryn: Absolutely.

Andrew: So if we’re looking at potential positives, that kind of mind shift to going ‘Hey, here’s an idea, why don’t we actually trust the person that much more,’ could come to the fore now.  And then I guess related to that, and it could be used in overlap, is the idea that you – that you just trust what’s come in and – but then with this condition that says ‘We will get medical evidence,’ or ‘We have the right to get medical evidence in let’s say 12 months’ time and if something transpires there with what you’ve told us isn’t true,’ and I say isn’t true rather than you didn’t know – which, you know, and it’s those grey areas which frankly will put some insurers off – ‘Then we change the premiums accordingly or in those extreme circumstances where you’ve, you know, just out and out lied to us, then pretty obviously you don’t have the cover.’

So I think there’s ways forward that don’t involve – and sorry, probably last but not least Kathryn, there is this using evidence more – even beyond the tele-interview, encouraging the individual to send hospital letters in.  Because the reasons that insurers are saying for turning this away is – is primarily focused on this altruistic ‘We’re trying not to swamp the NHS with requests at this time.’ Now I think it would be fair to say insurers are also, as every – as we’ve all discussed for ourselves – everyone is busy at the moment.  So I think yes, it may help GP surgeries not have to complete 300,000 reports but it will also help the insurers not have – from an operational perspective – not have to look at them. 

And I think almost flushing out the real reason by sending in – ‘If you have copies of your own reports, your own letter about the type of cancer you had, that heart attack you had, the mental health issue you had, sending in your last reports from your consultant,’ etcetera – I think it would be very worrying if insurers were starting to say ‘We can’t even accept those.’

Kathryn: Yeah.

Andrew: So yeah –

Kathryn: Interesting.

Andrew: A few different ideas.

Kathryn: Yeah, I was going to say, interesting as well that I have heard it from colleagues as well that sometimes GP reports are coming back super-duper fast right now because obviously the surgeries are closed.  So it, you know, this – it’s kind of like a mix isn’t it? I think some GPs are going to be immensely busy and I think there’s going to be – it’s going to see waves of that as corona virus obviously goes to different areas.  But yeah, there’s – there’s some where things are going extremely fast actually with the GP reports. So it’s a very interesting dynamic.  

But I think a good thing to point out as well just on different things you were saying Mike, is that I think there needs to be that level of sort like true expectations and realistic expectations from all involved, you know, in a sense of I think, you know, sometimes, you know, if somebody has had say something like cancer recently and they’re wanting the insurance, then when they come to speak to the adviser or an insurer then it is possibly – well it’s probably likely that for many insurance policies there will be an increase, possibly to the premiums.  Not all policies will, but some will. But it could be that the policies that don’t do that maybe have certain exclusions on them or different things.  

So I think it’s that kind of thing of that – I think sometimes we all get – and I think everybody in all stages of it – so the person who’s purchasing it, the adviser and the insurer – we can all get lost in our own kind of mindset of what is fair and what’s right and what we should get.  So, you know, insurers or somebody will think ‘It’s already fair and right that we put on these ratings and we do this and we do that.’ And sometimes it just needs someone to come and say ‘Well hang on a minute. Just look at it from, you know, sort of like a not-business point of view for a second.  Think of this, you know, see the person here, don’t see the number of this person.’  

And then, again I think from sort of like the – from the client point of view it’s sometimes coming in and knowing – you know, because sometimes I’ve had people say to me, you know, that they want to sue the insurer under the Disability Discrimination Act and they get really angry and I can understand their frustration and everything and it is extremely frustrating sometimes.  But I think we have to – sometimes we are changing things, we are making things for the better but sometimes there are times where some people will pay more than others and even though that may not seem fair, that is – it is just sometimes the way that the insurance world in itself works. I hope that makes sense.

Mike: No, absolutely.  And just to be absolutely crystal clear, there are certain conditions related to disability which would absolutely mean there is greater risk and therefore greater premium – and the ratings and stuff.  And I would never say anything different. What I am saying is that we just need and you need as an industry to be clear with the evidence and the lines of evidence that that is what it is and therefore apply it rather than in the clunky world which I was talking about critical illness where it was not – it was just – there was a word and there was a premium.  So I’m absolutely with you, I’m absolutely with the industry and 99 percent of disabled people are absolutely with you about the role that you do, the risk that has to be applied and for some people with certain conditions there is a higher risk and therefore a greater premium.

I think just going back to the point that was really fascinating – the point that Andrew made and, you know, I keep talking about the ‘new normal’ and what is the new normal?  And I think, you know, we talked about reasonable adjustments. I think it is reasonable to – to ask individuals, who best know their condition by the way, questions about their condition.  And there’s three answers isn’t there? There is either ‘Yes this is what it is, this is how it impacts me and here is honestly what I think and therefore decisions can be made.’ There is ‘I’m really sorry, I don’t know enough about it so please, you know, I’m being fair and I’m being honest and I’m not going to tell you things that will get me into difficulties and I’m not going to tell you things that mean that you take it as gospel and then when I come to have a claim in eight months’ time, nine months’ time you rightly say ‘You’re not covered because –’.

And then there’s the question of the ability and the reasonableness to seek medical cover or further information for which some will have it at home and then, like you said, can complement the discussions and for some there will have to be writing out to medical practitioners and it may or may not be reasonable as we go through the next week – weeks, how quickly they can turn that around.  But I think that the world that Andrew is describing seems to be, to me, a very reasonable, progressive way of dealing with an issue in the times that we are.  

And I would hope, again, that one of the things we might learn is, when we come through this, that some of those approaches, some of the common sense, some of those redressing the balance between the industry and the individual may remain and we don’t just default back to pre-COVID19 world.  Because I think we will find that there are some changes that go on in relation to what is being reasonable, the relationship between the individual and the State and the individual and the employer, that will have some real benefits going forward that we just need to harness, we need to nurture and we need to work out how we can then extrapolate those and scale them up for the benefit of society, organisations and individual disabled people.

Kathryn: Absolutely.  You’re absolutely right, Mike.

Andrew: Thank you Mike.  I’m aware – I’m aware we would normally say ‘Is there anything else you have to say?’  It’s been such a – we’ve covered such a range of things [laughs]. I – I want to still give you that offer but – but –

Kathryn: We have a call to action, Mike.

Andrew: Yeah.  As maybe – so I guess as a reminder – the people who we hope and believe are listening to this tend to be what, actuaries and underwriters, who make economists look interesting, I would say.  So, you know, don’t feel the need to apologise for that, advisers and other people who have some interest in – in protection insurance so you – you have their ears for – for five more minutes.  So is there anything else that you want to fill them with before they go?

Mike: Well I think – I think in the – before we started recording, and one of the – one of the issues that’s focused my mind is that Purple is a small organisation. That the reality is that its – its drive, its direction and its ability to succeed is still dependent contingent on one or two individuals.  And I – I’m on the board of an organisation, a social care organisation where last year very suddenly the finance director died of a heart attack. And one of the critical issues of that business was the fact that they had key man insurance in place. And when you take out all the emotion and all the upset and stuff, from a business continuity perspective, it was fundamental.  

And I’ve been thinking about that ever since and thinking about Purple and thinking about my own mortality and thinking ‘Well if anything happened to me, I don’t want it to be the end of Purple.  I don’t want the story to end because disabled people still need the inequalities in society and I think we’ve got the right vehicle.’  

So my call to action is I’m going to think about key man insurance and it will be quite interesting both of you to go through that process and see what approach is taken.  See whether I think it’s a fair approach and see whether there is a level of reasonable adjustment because I think it’s vital – well it’s vital to Purple in that respect as well as other people.  

And I think if I’ve got a broader point to make, this week is Autistic Awareness Week and my blog comes out tomorrow and I will be delighted if people would read it and it’s about new normal critical.  And it’s about putting yourself in the shoes of autistic people at this moment in time where actually having no new normal, having routines blown to smithereens for – for people with autism and on the spectrum who have been working and for whom the adjustments that have been made for individuals, think about those who have or who are on the spectrum and for whom such a sharp, rapid change has had a detrimental impact on their lives in terms of their routine and in terms of how they operate. 

And getting employers just to think about their own staff and those on the spectrum and – and a duty of care to those individuals and an understanding of those individuals.  And then of course the other part of Purple is about the disabled customer. And just making sure that, at a time when services have rightly been minimised and, you know, you’re delivering core – and I’m thinking here of supermarkets for example – to continue to think about the 22 percent of people in this country who have rights under some form of disability legislation and making sure that your organisation provides the best customer experience that it can do in these circumstances.  

And it was interesting, the boring economist in me was looking at the City and looking at share prices and it was interesting – if you look at it really, really narrowly, some of those companies where there was a bounce in their share price were ones that had talked openly and explicitly about their commitment to – now they’ve called call disabled people and vulnerable people, but actually in this context disabled people are vulnerable people.  Quite frankly there’s a lot more people who have suddenly become vulnerable.

Kathryn: Yeah.

Mike: But just making sure that, even in the teeth of what we’re going through, delivering good customer service and a good customer experience to all our customers and not forgetting them, just sweeping them away, all those things that in the good times we started to do that made a real difference and I – I think it’s really important and Purple – we’re a small organisation.  You know, we – we’re trying to do our bit by making sure that carers who are going into homes are paid and paid on time but we’ve repurposed Purple Tuesday which is the call – the call to action for businesses around customer experience. And we’re giving companies the opportunity to – to take our brand and our logo under licence for the next few weeks and dual purpose their customer experience messaging.  Because we’ve just got to make sure that all the progress that we have made over the last two or three years is not just simply swept away and these – these – the integration that we have started to see – and I truly, truly believe that disability, diversity and inclusion has to be an integral part of the recovery plan for the UK whenever it starts and my message is that the insurance industry, by putting forward sensible approaches, showing the world what reasonable adjustments at scale can mean in practice, can be at the forefront of – of this new world and this new normal.

Kathryn: Fantastic, thank you.  And where can people – obviously looking out for the blog on autism – where can people find that blog?  What are your contact details if people want to get involved?

Mike: Yes.  So you can either find it through www.purpletuesday.org.uk or you can find it on wearepurple.org.uk or on my LinkedIn page.

Kathryn: Fantastic.  Well thank you so much for everybody listening.  Thank you Mike for joining us. It’s been really insightful.  We really hope that you found this useful. Everybody that’s listening, if you do have any questions that you want us to discuss, please do send us a message.

Andrew: Yeah, and just to echo Kathryn’s thoughts there – Mike, thank you so much. It’s – from a very selfish perspective, it’s been the perfect tonic for me in the middle of all of this madness just to – yeah – reiterate those challenges and opportunities.  So thank you so, so much. Kathryn and I will be back in two weeks without a special guest but with some hopefully equally interesting and more in-depth stuff. We’re looking at multiple sclerosis specifically in two weeks’ time and I dare say there will be the usual other subject being discussed as well.  

So if you want to stay in touch then please do drop us a message on social media or go to our website on www.practical-protection.co.uk.  Thanks so much, bye.

Kathryn: Thank you everyone, bye.

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Episode 5 | Breaking Barriers

Hi Everyone!

We are absolutely thrilled this week to be joined by our first guest, Mike Adams OBE. Mike is an incredible speaker and advocate for improving access to products and services, for people with disabilities.

Mike's organisation Purple have gained significant attention in recent years with Purple Tuesday, a day where all organisations are asked to truly think about how they can improve access to their offerings.

This mindset to improve accessibility, shouldn't just be one day a year, it should be embedded in a company's ethos. In this episode we talk with Mike about how the insurance industry has made big improvements to improving access to insurance and we also chat about where things could still be better.

Our 3 key takeaways:

  1. The consumer spending power of the disabled community, the Purple Pound, stands at £249 billion per year!
  2. For years people with disabilities have asked for and many have been denied support to work from home. The coronavirus lockdown has shown that this is possible for many organisation to adapt to employees working from home.
  3. There are roughly 300,000 people per year that need additional medical underwriting for protection insurance. Insurers need to develop ways to adapt their medical underwriting processes, due to the limitations on medical resources that coronavirus is causing.

We hope that you enjoy this episode. Mike has a wealth of experience and knowledge on how to break down barriers, so that people living with disabilities are treated fairly by organisations. We hope that his message of a continued need for equality in these troubling times, is heard by all.

As with all of our episodes, we love your feedback! Please let us know what you think and if you have any suggestions for future episodes pop up a message.

Next time we are focusing on Multiple Sclerosis

Kathryn: Hi everyone, this is episode five and today we have our first guest on the podcast.  It is Mike Adams OBE from Purple. Hi Mike!

Andrew: Hello Mike.

Mike: Good morning.

Andrew: So first up, a quick warning on the potential for noises off during this podcast.  As I’m sure all of you listening are in the same situation, we – we are in various different places this morning so as well as the three of us from our temporary offices, we have children, cats, rats and who knows what else ready to make guest appearances.  But notwithstanding that early excuse, the most important question I guess now more than ever is: how are you both doing in these fairly surreal times? So Mike, how – how are things for you?

Mike: Surreal Andrew, you’re absolutely right.  Unprecedented – the word that is in the lexicon as the new word.  It’s strange. I’m sitting in the office at the moment. We have half the team in so we do two things – we support businesses to support disabled members of staff and customers and we also support disabled people to live independently in the community, employ carers and agencies.  And it’s absolutely vital that we see – we are seeing 6,000 carers going into the homes of disabled people, to get them up, get them dressed and give them a level of independence.  

And at this time, it’s absolutely critical that we can pay these individuals every week and provide the support and employment, advice and guidance needed and, you know, we have the challenge of turning what is an office-based operation remotely and we have agreed as a team that we need to do it collectively and we need to do it safely.  So we are working 18 hours a day to try and turn the whole organisation remote in a safe way because I think this is going to be a number of weeks and at home I have four children. I have a 12-year old, a seven-year old and two 10-month-old twins and a mother-in-law that’s living with us as well at the moment so it’s a very crowded house, a noisy house and part of me wants to delay the transition to remote working for as long as possible but I know that’s not responsible either.  So it’s absolutely intense in many ways at a time when the world has gone so quiet.

Andrew: Mm, and how about you Kathryn?

Kathryn: Well I was just saying to Mike beforehand, it’s been a bit strange for us.  I mean, we’ve been able to adapt really quickly as a business to working from home because we kind of had that set-up in any case for people anyway just in case they don’t feel well enough to come into the office.  So everybody’s kind of already got those encrypted laptops and things to work from home. But what’s been really strange for us is that obviously – we live in Filey which is in the middle of nowhere, a little town on the coast and coronavirus is here.  We have somebody local who is very, very seriously ill in hospital right now.  

Alan’s sister, they believe, has it.  She has some – she’s had the test done and there’s some higher – sorry the high level readings of this certain kind of – I don’t know what you call it – the ‘flag’ within the readings to say – suggest that it’s coronavirus.  And she has really, really bad asthma and has been significantly ill but is luckily – touch wood, she is getting better. She hasn’t had to go into hospital. She’s been getting better but it’s been very unusual because of the fact that two days before she was tested, myself and Alan saw her.  We did the usual thing because it was before all the social distancing and everything. We hugged, we were kissing on the face and everything like that.  

So it’s very likely that we’ve had it as well and I’ve just had my – this was about two weeks ago now – so if we have had it, touch wood we are through what should be the thing but I’ve had headaches, sore throat, you know, just generally not feeling great.  But not bad at all which is really, really fortunate. But my five-year-old has just woken up and said that he can’t taste anything properly and that he’s got a sore throat. So now I’m just – I’ve sat him at Alan’s just before I came upstairs before I left him with the three of them.  I was like ‘You watch him like a hawk.’ You know? ‘You absolutely watch him.’  

And so just a little bit worrying.  I think anything and everything and you kind of then start to think ‘Am I thinking too much of this though?  Because it’s a sore throat and it’s a headache.’ You know? That could be anything, that could be stuck in the house for two weeks, you know, with central heating and everything and I think we’re just all so unsure of what’s happening and I think, you know, obviously everybody’s scared and we don’t know what’s going on and it kind of feels as well as if there’s nowhere for correct information.  I don’t feel like – if I look on social media – I never look on social media for true information of anything in all fairness because you just get so many different things out there.  

But, you know, there’s just so much going around now and so many opinions and the news just seems to be conflicting all the time as well and it’s really, really hard.  So I know I sometimes just see – there’s some doctors on Twitter that I see and I’ve seen them for a long time. They’ve always made sense so I’m kind of – I’m watching what they’re doing and I’m watching what they’re saying because I’m thinking ‘Right, they’re an official doctor.”  So hopefully, you know, they have all the – the true stuff there in front of them. But definitely strange times adapting from working from home. I’m shattered and I think every parent in the world is shattered right now! And – but I’m incredibly grateful at the moment because we’ve got a garden and I just keep thinking about people who maybe don’t have gardens and stuff like that and think ‘How on Earth are they coping with kids and stuff or animals?’  Or anything and yeah – how are you Andrew?

Andrew: I’m alright, compared to you two! [all laugh]  I’ve only got two kids. I’ve only got two kids, I haven’t got a team of people.  So, yeah, I mean it’s – joking aside though, I think I am in a – look it’s – it’s tough, it’s still seven-year-old and five-year-old and all of that stuff that comes with that.  Work is – obviously for reasons we’ll talk about – busy.

Kathryn: Yeah.

Andrew: But less urgently, let’s be honest – and all the stuff that you deal with Mike.  I think my main challenge is – is actually probably upwards to parents who you start off doing the ‘Call any time,’ and my parents are all about 70, touch wood fairly healthy.  But suddenly you, you know, you have to remind them that when they start calling you at three every day, you – you’re doing other stuff. And, you know, the 45-minute call with Dad that’s a lovely chat to have but you kind of, ‘Dear me – that’s in my – that’s in my – my half-day working time Dad.’  Yes, it’s – we’re all getting used to different situations and I think we’ve all now said something that means that we can’t share this podcast with our friends and family. So we’re all level now. So we can crack on.

Kathryn: I was going to say as well, I don’t know if you two are having this issue either, but I and many other people, especially in our area, it is impossible to make your parents stay at home.  So my Dad has Parkinson’s disease. He had an emergency stoma fitted in December. He’s meant to have deep vein surgery and he and my Mum are just like ‘Well we’ll just go for a walk. We won’t see anybody, it’ll be fine.’  And I’m like, ‘I’ll bring you stuff. Just stay home. Just don’t do anything.’ And they’re just like, ‘Oh we’ll be okay.’ And I’m like ‘Seriously, just stay at home!’ And they’re saying to me ‘But we need to protect you,’ and I’m like ‘No, no that’s not how this virus works this time.  I actually really need to protect you right now.’ And I think everybody’s probably finding that with their parents at the moment. They’re just very, very disobedient.

Mike: I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to my Mum so much.  I’m doing the ‘How are you, Salvation Army, Samaritans’ kind of call every other day.  That I think is probably freaking them out more than reassuring them.

Andrew: Yes.

Mike: And then I said “How are you doing, you know, bunkered down in the house?” and one they are desperately sad because their 10-month-old twins are growing up –

Kathryn: Yeah.

Mike: And they’re not seeing them and my Dad’s 80 in July and Mum’s 79 and, you know, and they do realise the seriousness of what’s going on and then I said “Oh, how are you coping, you know, not going out at all?”  “Oh well we’ve been out once because we need to get exercise and Edith down the road, she’s 93 and so we’ve gone to get her some food.” So, in some ways I – you see it on the news about the community spirit –

Kathryn: Yeah.

Mike: And building that community and I’m hearing it and that is really lovely but I – I do worry about – in our business that the level of isolation and getting the balance right and, you know, what the state of the nation will be in October, November – and I was talking to a business contact last week and he said they left the office so quickly that he wasn’t able to take home any of his office chair or proper equipment and he’s found himself in a kind of shoe cupboard working eight hours a day at home –

Kathryn: Yeah.

Mike: Crouching over with his neck turned to one side and his back turned to one side doing all these Zoom calls.  And you can see that – just an explosion of mental health and physical health issues in the autumn as – as people have been cocooned for so long and it’s really difficult to say anything else because in many ways the message is ‘Stay at home unless it’s absolutely essential.’

Kathryn: Yeah.

Mike: And we’ve given a letter to all our staff because the fear now of being pulled over by the police on the way to work, you know, about it being essential – but I’ve been very clear in the letter that if any of our staff are caught, you know, work – we do not work weekends or – well, we work from home at weekends and we’re not doing any visits and so the letter is very explicit about, you know, travelling in the morning and in the evening.

Kathryn: Yes.

Mike: So there is a real need to reinforce the social distancing and – but I do fear for the population and the growing numbers of people with mental and physical disabilities that may emerge as we emerge through this.

Kathryn: Absolutely.

Andrew: So shall we – getting I guess to the – what this podcast would have been about when we agreed to do it six weeks ago?

Kathryn: Yeah.

Andrew: [laughs] And probably if we go for a chunk of – of that now and I’m sure – I think towards the end maybe if we come back to some of the reflections on – on coronavirus but maybe from a more technical perspective and you’ve already picked up some of those really important ones there Mike, that I think that’s – I think that highlights why we wanted to speak to you because we come at a lot of the same issues from a different perspective but then there ends up being these, you know, very shared points of relevance and interest.  So maybe Mike, if you want to just – just only for a couple of minutes just go back through in a bit of detail what it is that you and the organisation there do and I guess how you – maybe focusing more on you personally, how you’ve got to this point in that?

Mike: No absolutely and so I’m Chief Exec of Purple and I describe Purple as an organisation that sees disability differently and as I visualise what I want to do is – is take disability from being perceived, seen as a welfare, vulnerable people issue – an issue that is addressed primarily by the State and turn disability into a valuable – a value proposition.  Seeing disabled people as talented individuals and a talent pool for being employees but also being seen as disabled – customers in their own right and wanting and driving a quality customer experience. And – and that – that shifting of the dial, that shifting of where disability is positioned involves society taking disability and seeing it in a very different way and behaving in a different way and approaching it in a different way.

And we believe that if we can do that then we fundamentally address or start to address inequality for disabled people in our society which is why I get out of bed in the morning and if you – if we wind back six weeks, two months, I would have said “Look – look at the metrics, look at the metrics on employment.  Look at the metrics on education. Look at the metrics on poverty. Look at the metrics on access to leisure.” Disabled people are disproportionately disadvantaged in all of those metrics and quite frankly you’ve had the Disability Discrimination Act, you’ve had the Equality Act – that really has not shifted the dial as much as it should have and therefore we have to fundamentally rethink how we kind of reshape that kaleidoscope.  

And we’ve used the Purple pound, the consumer spending power of disabled people and their families that stands at £249 billion a year and rising at 14 percent.  And that is a huge, huge number and I’ve defied – I’ve been into corporates, I’ve been into SMEs and said “If you have a member of staff that comes into your boardroom or into your meeting and goes ‘Look, I’ve found the new market, it’s potentially worth £240 billion a year.  The great thing is only 10 percent of businesses have even thought about it. And what’s even more brilliant is the way to access that market is a change of mindset. So it’s not really going to cost us anything.’”  

And we have started to see that really starting to move and I’ve always said the international sign for disability which is the wheelchair sign has done brilliant across the world, it’s really raised the profile.  But the wheelchair users – they reflect seven percent of the disabled population and 80 percent of disabled people will walk into a shop, walk into a restaurant, walk into a hotel, walk into an office and you won’t know that they have additional needs.  And it’s about a mindset, it’s about asking the right type of questions, it’s about a customer experience and –  

And partly this is why I’m excited at being on this podcast today, because I’ve talked to Kathryn before – I can see the huge opportunity that the insurance industry can play in delivering these objectives, delivering the repositioning of disability through employing talented individuals and providing a good quality customer experience.  And I can see it happening and then of course what has happened has just happened and – and my fear is that we will go back a long way when we start to emerge and perhaps we’ll pick that up later.  

But that’s who Purple are.  That’s who we do and we’re working with some really progressive organisations who see the business case for disability and we talk, Andrew, about blending kindness and commerciality and I think in 2020 if you’re going to get organisations to buy into this and buy into this because they want to do the right thing by their business and they want to do the right thing by their staff and they want to do the right thing by their customers, then you have to find that mix of commercial and social objectives to – and give them the tools to be able to apply the common sense, apply the approach and to do it properly.

Kathryn: I think that’s absolutely brilliant and I was going to say something that sort of resonated when you were talking then about the people with disabilities and their employability.  And not to sort of like focus primarily on coronavirus or anything but I’m seeing a lot of things as well on social media and a lot of things from people who are disabled on social media, saying ‘So hang on a minute, for all these years you’ve not been able to adapt work so that I can work from home and so that I can do this and keep doing things and now, you know, we’re seeing it now where anybody is suddenly having to adapt and work from home.’  

We are opening up the doors, we’re doing the Zoom meetings and I have to say, you know, we did a – I was at a conference not long ago where somebody was there by video rather than in-person and it did – it was different.  You know, if someone’s there in person it can make a huge difference and a huge impact to the atmosphere but for meetings and stuff like that, for everyday running – running of a business, then really, you know, we’re seeing that all these companies have these huge, huge businesses in Central London or in the cities and they’re paying extortionate rates for these buildings and really all they need to do is a bit of an adaptation – a lot of the work force can work from home or possibly opening up avenues for people with disabilities who can’t get into the office.  

So you’re kind of thinking ‘Well if some big corporate’s going to turn round and go ‘Well hang on a minute, we’re paying how many hundreds of thousands of pounds at least a year –’ well possibly even a month in London, I don’t know, I’m a simple northern person, I don’t know the pricing.  ‘You know, on these offices, when what we could do is not have that open, we could have a cheaper office elsewhere and then a lot of that money could then be distributed to a broader workforce who, you know, at the moment they are a massively untapped potential.’

Mike: Well I’ve seen – I’ve seen – and I’ve seen a lot of people in the disability community and we use in employment terms ‘reasonable adjustments’ and – and the battles that employees have had with their employers to make reasonable adjustments for that individual to be hugely product – have a level of productivity in that organisation and that includes often buying a piece of IT software at £300 to enable that to happen and the battles about whether that is reasonable or not.  And suddenly overnight UK plc has absolutely created the biggest reasonable adjustment in working lives ever. And I’m going to capture all of this because when I stand on a platform again in October, November, I will be saying to businesses “Do not ever, ever tell me again that you cannot make simple adjustments.”  

And I hope if anything good comes out of this, we will start to reconceptualise and realise that actually what we’re talking about – and by the way, let’s just keep remembering this – what we are talking about is about tapping into talented individuals and tapping into consumers which is the benefit of the companies themselves and their relationship with disabled people.  So yeah, absolutely, reasonable adjustments – and given what’s gone on now, is really, really straightforward.

Andrew: That’s great.  And I guess – I guess then by moving into your experiences with financial services or insurance specifically, either for you as an individual or the things that your organisation sees.  I know – I know you’ve worked with the likes of Johnny Timpson and Kathryn at Cura that – I mean obviously there’s overall a lot of challenges in our world and it would be good to hear, I guess, from your side some of those that you’ve seen or to get your impression of that to this point.

Mike: Yeah.  Yeah, absolutely Andrew.  If I start with my own experience as I started my working life quite a number of years ago but it was striking that – I’d done an economics degree and no disrespect to economists but we’re a quite boring lot, you know, and very risk-averse.  As I say – and I was one of them and at 21, 22, I – I decided that, you know, I was going to invest in all sorts of things for a rainy day that of course never – it never was going to happen. And I wanted critical illness cover, which 21-year old, 22-year old in those days didn’t really apply for and we went through all the forms and then suddenly there was this kind of off-hand ‘Oh and by the way do you have a disability?’  ‘Yes I do.’ And suddenly the whole conversation just ground to a halt [laughs].

You’ve got to take this back however long it was but it ground to a halt ‘Oh, well that might be a problem.’  ‘Oh, why will that be a problem?’ ‘Well because, you know, we’re going to have to ask you all sorts of other questions.’  And to cut a long story short, I got my critical illness cover at a huge premium and they were explicit in saying ‘Because you are disabled,’ and I said ‘But why because I’m disabled?’  ‘Oh, you don’t know – you know, it’s a technical reason but because you’re disabled and by the way, if you were to end up with a critical illness that had paralysis involved for example, you wouldn’t be covered.’  

And we went through the whole loop of ‘My disability has nothing to do with paralysis whatsoever.’  ‘Well that is what we’ve been told and if you want critical illness cover, you have to accept the terms.’  Which I did and I did on the basis that it was highly unlikely that due to my disability I had any greater chance than Kathryn or yourself Andrew of – of getting paralysis.  But I know from my peers who I then persuaded to get critical illness as well who were non-disabled but their premiums were a fraction of what mine were. And I guess that was my introduction and throughout – when you buy a house and your life insurance and all of those things, the issue that’s continued to come up and I can only say to you – and it’s not totally scientific, but if you look at my insurance cover in relation to peers of a similar ilk, I am paying more.  

And if you strip out all the variables that it could be, I suspect disability still remains one of those where there is an indirect premium that I am paying.  And I think that is – that the – disability still in many areas is a hot potato, you know? It’s something that the scripts – if the word comes up or words that are synonyms to that – the word comes up, you know, you’re into a whole set of other questions and I – I’ve spoke with Kathryn and Alan a lot and the nature of the business, you do have to get personal and I totally understand that.  It is totally reasonable to understand that but it’s how you interpret and how you translate what you hear and how you then determine whether that means that you are a higher risk or not.  

And think my plea to the insurance company as a – as a Chief Exec of Purple and someone who wants disabled people to be an integral part of the community whether it’s as a customer or employee, is don’t disadvantage – don’t disadvantage us just because of a word that means that historically you’ve been able to just put a premium on because it’s an unknown risk.

Kathryn: That’s a really good point.  Is that generally what you see or what you hear from people is that – is that same – still the same experience that people are getting now when they’re going for insurances?  So they are still seeing – are people feeling like there’s a lot of barriers and inequality when they go for the cover?

Mike: Not if they come to you Kathryn but –

Kathryn: Thank you! [laughs]

Mike: Generally yes and generally there’s still this fear factor of having to disclose to people who they’ve never met before some really quite personal details and knowing that at the end of that process there is a sense that you’re going to get penalised in your premiums for that.  And I – and I think – I think that is out there and I think it’s easy to disabuse and this is why I think the insurance companies can be at the forefront of that shift in vision that I think we need to see and which Purple is about.

Andrew: Yeah, that all makes sense.  I mean I think – and obviously Kathryn and I live and breathe this I guess every day and I – I don’t think there’s any pretence that where we are now is – or where the insurance industry is now – is anywhere near perfect.  I guess to your example there Mike, I still think that would happen today. And the two crunch points are the – I guess, how fair the decision is and how well it’s explained. I guess that’s – I guess as a technician the bits that I hear and there’s both of those are equally in need of focus and, you know, that kind of challenge of – I think sometimes – I think most – I guess my view would be most of the time the decision that’s made now is fair, is reasonable.  

That’s the – you know, we’ve mentioned acts today – is reasonable but, you know to have that, to convince people of that and to have a conversation as to whether that’s true or not, you need to be able to explain ‘Well why, how have you come up with that decision?’ and not just kind of pass it down the line as a ‘Well it’s probably something like this to fill in the gaps.’

Mike: And I tell you what Andrew, if you are correct and that would be brilliant if you are, then the challenge before the insurance industry is one of persuasion, one of communication and one of inclusion which quite frankly is much easier to achieve than the technical challenges that may have, you know, been out of date five, ten years ago.

Kathryn: So something that we’re seeing a bit at the moment as well, because obviously we are talking about barriers to insurance and what people can expect and things.  So we are seeing, again I’m not wanting to – I seem to be just talking about coronavirus every time I start speaking so I do apologise but it isn’t a script about coronavirus again so we have seen within the insurance world that for anybody, for income protection with some insurers, some of their policies have been in a sense withdrawn for new applications.  Some of them now have exclusions on in regards to the income protection so how, if it kicks in sort of like at certain time periods, there’s some coronavirus exclusions on there now because the income protection suddenly got swarmed with people being interested in it because everyone is scared obviously about losing income.

And in many ways it’s absolutely brilliant that so many people want income protection now but it’s just really unfortunate that there’s just been this huge, huge swarm of people and – just for anybody who’s sort of like – I think we brushed on this a little bit on this last time Andrew – so, you know, the difficulties with some insurers if they suddenly have everybody to take out the policy now and then once coronavirus in a sense dies down, they’ve all made a claim but then they close their policy down in say October, then the insurer’s going to be left with not enough financial reserves to be able to carry on supporting everybody and anybody who maybe has a longer term claim.  It’s – it’s lots of – it may sound quite bad that in a sense of well it could – it’s kind of – it’s coming down to a business sense, but ultimately they are businesses and they need to be profitable to be able to support everybody and fulfil the promises that they’ve made to existing people already.

But we are seeing a change in regards to some of the other protection policies, so the life and critical illness cover and I think this is probably something – so we’ve touched on it a little bit before the call and was something you touched on a little bit earlier Mike, in that there are a couple of insurers – and that’s not the majority, it’s just a couple of insurers – that have essentially closed their doors to anybody who’s applying for the life insurance, critical illness cover or the income protection if it doesn’t go through – straight through on their online systems.  Now I’m sure that there’s a lot of people who will be in the boat where they can go straight through on their systems.  

I obviously tend to see most people who can’t go through on online journeys and I’m sure that a lot of people that you’ll be aware of Mike, would be in the same situation.  And it’s really, really unfortunate because, as you say, it’s kind of – for that couple of companies – it is a big step back. Others are looking to adapt and to make changes where they can.  I think it comes down to kind of that ethos that – kind of like we were saying – kind of like that company ethos as to what you want to do ultimately for your customers. And Andrew, I think you may probably have some suggestions as to what I know some insurers are potentially doing or looking at doing to see if they continue to support people. 

As an adviser, what I always do with clients is I say to them ‘Right we’re,’ you know, if we’re going to be going down the need for medical reports from GPs and stuff like that, I’ll always say to them as well ‘Do you have any medical reports at home?  Do you have the facility to scan them? Any specialist letters? If you do, send them to me on my secure systems and we can potentially bypass the need to go to the GP.’ I think some insurers are now actively putting that kind of message out there to a lot of people to just say ‘If you’ve got medical stuff, get it to us.  We’ll see what we can do. We’re trying still as much as possible to get you under cover.’  

But Andrew, have you seen any changes that you think are going to be working well or not so well?

Andrew: Yeah, yeah, it probably is worth just giving context of numbers as Mike did incredibly well with, I guess, what the prize is and what the challenge is on that side.  So, you know, for individual protection, so for life, critical illness, income protection, there’s about two million new policies written a year in the UK. And, depending on the insurer, between 10 and 20 percent you would be getting GPRs – reports from your doctor and probably another five or 10 percent you’d be getting medical evidence from someone else.  So you do the numbers and you quite quickly get to let’s say three or four hundred thousand people a year who are – who insurers are asking for extra medical evidence on – I guess, you know, in Mike’s situation it probably comes on that last question where suddenly there’s ‘Ooh well actually, we can’t just complete this on an easy application form or system.’  

So it’s big – I guess, the reason for that preamble is, it’s big numbers.  We’re not talking about one or two people here or there, we’re talking about lots of people who, you know, for their family, for their house move, whatever, may be, may be in a very different situation going forwards.  You’re right Kathryn, there’s lots of different ways that people could go about things in this spirit of adapting through this time so we’re – so I guess the ideas out there that are being discussed are using tele-interviews rather than traditional medical exams, using video interviews rather than nurse screenings.

Kathryn: Can you just explain a tele-interview please Andrew?

Andrew: Yeah, so a tele-interview is a nurse typically or sometimes an underwriter going through a set of questions, I guess bluntly in more detail than the typical adviser or salesperson would.  So typically those calls would take about an hour. They’d go into detail where detail needed to be gone into. So there’d be a script but – but generally that person would have permission to go off-script as well.  And in essence it’s getting – it’s trying to get as close to all the information and especially all the information the individual knows about their own condition, which I think – without putting words into your mouths – I think often we’ve discussed this on a previous podcast Kathryn on rare diseases – often that individual will know at least as much or more than what’s in their – what’s in their GP reports.

Kathryn: Absolutely.

Andrew: So if we’re looking at potential positives, that kind of mind shift to going ‘Hey, here’s an idea, why don’t we actually trust the person that much more,’ could come to the fore now.  And then I guess related to that, and it could be used in overlap, is the idea that you – that you just trust what’s come in and – but then with this condition that says ‘We will get medical evidence,’ or ‘We have the right to get medical evidence in let’s say 12 months’ time and if something transpires there with what you’ve told us isn’t true,’ and I say isn’t true rather than you didn’t know – which, you know, and it’s those grey areas which frankly will put some insurers off – ‘Then we change the premiums accordingly or in those extreme circumstances where you’ve, you know, just out and out lied to us, then pretty obviously you don’t have the cover.’

So I think there’s ways forward that don’t involve – and sorry, probably last but not least Kathryn, there is this using evidence more – even beyond the tele-interview, encouraging the individual to send hospital letters in.  Because the reasons that insurers are saying for turning this away is – is primarily focused on this altruistic ‘We’re trying not to swamp the NHS with requests at this time.’ Now I think it would be fair to say insurers are also, as every – as we’ve all discussed for ourselves – everyone is busy at the moment.  So I think yes, it may help GP surgeries not have to complete 300,000 reports but it will also help the insurers not have – from an operational perspective – not have to look at them. 

And I think almost flushing out the real reason by sending in – ‘If you have copies of your own reports, your own letter about the type of cancer you had, that heart attack you had, the mental health issue you had, sending in your last reports from your consultant,’ etcetera – I think it would be very worrying if insurers were starting to say ‘We can’t even accept those.’

Kathryn: Yeah.

Andrew: So yeah –

Kathryn: Interesting.

Andrew: A few different ideas.

Kathryn: Yeah, I was going to say, interesting as well that I have heard it from colleagues as well that sometimes GP reports are coming back super-duper fast right now because obviously the surgeries are closed.  So it, you know, this – it’s kind of like a mix isn’t it? I think some GPs are going to be immensely busy and I think there’s going to be – it’s going to see waves of that as corona virus obviously goes to different areas.  But yeah, there’s – there’s some where things are going extremely fast actually with the GP reports. So it’s a very interesting dynamic.  

But I think a good thing to point out as well just on different things you were saying Mike, is that I think there needs to be that level of sort like true expectations and realistic expectations from all involved, you know, in a sense of I think, you know, sometimes, you know, if somebody has had say something like cancer recently and they’re wanting the insurance, then when they come to speak to the adviser or an insurer then it is possibly – well it’s probably likely that for many insurance policies there will be an increase, possibly to the premiums.  Not all policies will, but some will. But it could be that the policies that don’t do that maybe have certain exclusions on them or different things.  

So I think it’s that kind of thing of that – I think sometimes we all get – and I think everybody in all stages of it – so the person who’s purchasing it, the adviser and the insurer – we can all get lost in our own kind of mindset of what is fair and what’s right and what we should get.  So, you know, insurers or somebody will think ‘It’s already fair and right that we put on these ratings and we do this and we do that.’ And sometimes it just needs someone to come and say ‘Well hang on a minute. Just look at it from, you know, sort of like a not-business point of view for a second.  Think of this, you know, see the person here, don’t see the number of this person.’  

And then, again I think from sort of like the – from the client point of view it’s sometimes coming in and knowing – you know, because sometimes I’ve had people say to me, you know, that they want to sue the insurer under the Disability Discrimination Act and they get really angry and I can understand their frustration and everything and it is extremely frustrating sometimes.  But I think we have to – sometimes we are changing things, we are making things for the better but sometimes there are times where some people will pay more than others and even though that may not seem fair, that is – it is just sometimes the way that the insurance world in itself works. I hope that makes sense.

Mike: No, absolutely.  And just to be absolutely crystal clear, there are certain conditions related to disability which would absolutely mean there is greater risk and therefore greater premium – and the ratings and stuff.  And I would never say anything different. What I am saying is that we just need and you need as an industry to be clear with the evidence and the lines of evidence that that is what it is and therefore apply it rather than in the clunky world which I was talking about critical illness where it was not – it was just – there was a word and there was a premium.  So I’m absolutely with you, I’m absolutely with the industry and 99 percent of disabled people are absolutely with you about the role that you do, the risk that has to be applied and for some people with certain conditions there is a higher risk and therefore a greater premium.

I think just going back to the point that was really fascinating – the point that Andrew made and, you know, I keep talking about the ‘new normal’ and what is the new normal?  And I think, you know, we talked about reasonable adjustments. I think it is reasonable to – to ask individuals, who best know their condition by the way, questions about their condition.  And there’s three answers isn’t there? There is either ‘Yes this is what it is, this is how it impacts me and here is honestly what I think and therefore decisions can be made.’ There is ‘I’m really sorry, I don’t know enough about it so please, you know, I’m being fair and I’m being honest and I’m not going to tell you things that will get me into difficulties and I’m not going to tell you things that mean that you take it as gospel and then when I come to have a claim in eight months’ time, nine months’ time you rightly say ‘You’re not covered because –’.

And then there’s the question of the ability and the reasonableness to seek medical cover or further information for which some will have it at home and then, like you said, can complement the discussions and for some there will have to be writing out to medical practitioners and it may or may not be reasonable as we go through the next week – weeks, how quickly they can turn that around.  But I think that the world that Andrew is describing seems to be, to me, a very reasonable, progressive way of dealing with an issue in the times that we are.  

And I would hope, again, that one of the things we might learn is, when we come through this, that some of those approaches, some of the common sense, some of those redressing the balance between the industry and the individual may remain and we don’t just default back to pre-COVID19 world.  Because I think we will find that there are some changes that go on in relation to what is being reasonable, the relationship between the individual and the State and the individual and the employer, that will have some real benefits going forward that we just need to harness, we need to nurture and we need to work out how we can then extrapolate those and scale them up for the benefit of society, organisations and individual disabled people.

Kathryn: Absolutely.  You’re absolutely right, Mike.

Andrew: Thank you Mike.  I’m aware – I’m aware we would normally say ‘Is there anything else you have to say?’  It’s been such a – we’ve covered such a range of things [laughs]. I – I want to still give you that offer but – but –

Kathryn: We have a call to action, Mike.

Andrew: Yeah.  As maybe – so I guess as a reminder – the people who we hope and believe are listening to this tend to be what, actuaries and underwriters, who make economists look interesting, I would say.  So, you know, don’t feel the need to apologise for that, advisers and other people who have some interest in – in protection insurance so you – you have their ears for – for five more minutes.  So is there anything else that you want to fill them with before they go?

Mike: Well I think – I think in the – before we started recording, and one of the – one of the issues that’s focused my mind is that Purple is a small organisation. That the reality is that its – its drive, its direction and its ability to succeed is still dependent contingent on one or two individuals.  And I – I’m on the board of an organisation, a social care organisation where last year very suddenly the finance director died of a heart attack. And one of the critical issues of that business was the fact that they had key man insurance in place. And when you take out all the emotion and all the upset and stuff, from a business continuity perspective, it was fundamental.  

And I’ve been thinking about that ever since and thinking about Purple and thinking about my own mortality and thinking ‘Well if anything happened to me, I don’t want it to be the end of Purple.  I don’t want the story to end because disabled people still need the inequalities in society and I think we’ve got the right vehicle.’  

So my call to action is I’m going to think about key man insurance and it will be quite interesting both of you to go through that process and see what approach is taken.  See whether I think it’s a fair approach and see whether there is a level of reasonable adjustment because I think it’s vital – well it’s vital to Purple in that respect as well as other people.  

And I think if I’ve got a broader point to make, this week is Autistic Awareness Week and my blog comes out tomorrow and I will be delighted if people would read it and it’s about new normal critical.  And it’s about putting yourself in the shoes of autistic people at this moment in time where actually having no new normal, having routines blown to smithereens for – for people with autism and on the spectrum who have been working and for whom the adjustments that have been made for individuals, think about those who have or who are on the spectrum and for whom such a sharp, rapid change has had a detrimental impact on their lives in terms of their routine and in terms of how they operate. 

And getting employers just to think about their own staff and those on the spectrum and – and a duty of care to those individuals and an understanding of those individuals.  And then of course the other part of Purple is about the disabled customer. And just making sure that, at a time when services have rightly been minimised and, you know, you’re delivering core – and I’m thinking here of supermarkets for example – to continue to think about the 22 percent of people in this country who have rights under some form of disability legislation and making sure that your organisation provides the best customer experience that it can do in these circumstances.  

And it was interesting, the boring economist in me was looking at the City and looking at share prices and it was interesting – if you look at it really, really narrowly, some of those companies where there was a bounce in their share price were ones that had talked openly and explicitly about their commitment to – now they’ve called call disabled people and vulnerable people, but actually in this context disabled people are vulnerable people.  Quite frankly there’s a lot more people who have suddenly become vulnerable.

Kathryn: Yeah.

Mike: But just making sure that, even in the teeth of what we’re going through, delivering good customer service and a good customer experience to all our customers and not forgetting them, just sweeping them away, all those things that in the good times we started to do that made a real difference and I – I think it’s really important and Purple – we’re a small organisation.  You know, we – we’re trying to do our bit by making sure that carers who are going into homes are paid and paid on time but we’ve repurposed Purple Tuesday which is the call – the call to action for businesses around customer experience. And we’re giving companies the opportunity to – to take our brand and our logo under licence for the next few weeks and dual purpose their customer experience messaging.  Because we’ve just got to make sure that all the progress that we have made over the last two or three years is not just simply swept away and these – these – the integration that we have started to see – and I truly, truly believe that disability, diversity and inclusion has to be an integral part of the recovery plan for the UK whenever it starts and my message is that the insurance industry, by putting forward sensible approaches, showing the world what reasonable adjustments at scale can mean in practice, can be at the forefront of – of this new world and this new normal.

Kathryn: Fantastic, thank you.  And where can people – obviously looking out for the blog on autism – where can people find that blog?  What are your contact details if people want to get involved?

Mike: Yes.  So you can either find it through www.purpletuesday.org.uk or you can find it on wearepurple.org.uk or on my LinkedIn page.

Kathryn: Fantastic.  Well thank you so much for everybody listening.  Thank you Mike for joining us. It’s been really insightful.  We really hope that you found this useful. Everybody that’s listening, if you do have any questions that you want us to discuss, please do send us a message.

Andrew: Yeah, and just to echo Kathryn’s thoughts there – Mike, thank you so much. It’s – from a very selfish perspective, it’s been the perfect tonic for me in the middle of all of this madness just to – yeah – reiterate those challenges and opportunities.  So thank you so, so much. Kathryn and I will be back in two weeks without a special guest but with some hopefully equally interesting and more in-depth stuff. We’re looking at multiple sclerosis specifically in two weeks’ time and I dare say there will be the usual other subject being discussed as well.  

So if you want to stay in touch then please do drop us a message on social media or go to our website on www.practical-protection.co.uk.  Thanks so much, bye.

Kathryn: Thank you everyone, bye.

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