Nearly eighteen months from the start of the first lockdown, the government considers it too soon for a full review into the handling of the pandemic. Given the new Delta variant is causing concern about rising infection rate, it’s hard to fault the logic.
It does, however, pose an interesting question for the group risk industry: after a year that shook the world, how did the sector deliver value for employees and their families? And now that we hope the worst of Covid-19 is behind us, what did we learn from the pandemic that can help us shape our offerings for an increasingly hybrid working world?
When it comes to measuring value, analysis of industry claims data provides the most obvious benchmark. Interim figures from Group Risk Development (Grid) show that in 2020 the industry paid out an estimated £93m to families who lost loved ones to Covid-19, illustrating the value of group life insurance. However, in a year when UK group risk providers collectively paid out a record £2.01 billion, clearly this is just the tip of the iceberg.
In April 2020, the Office for National Statistics found 46.6 per cent of employed people did at least some of their work at home. Faced with a seismic shift in workplace culture, it was clear that the group risk industry needed to rethink how we delivered services. Updating claims processes to accept e-signatures, remodelling medical evidence protocols for those needing rapid medical support and moving wellbeing workshops online were some of our responses.
Delays to treatment, diagnoses and extended waiting times due to the pandemic have been particularly problematic for patients suffering serious illnesses such as cancer. Macmillan estimates more than 650,000 people in the UK – 22 per cent of patients – experienced disruption to their cancer treatment or care because of Covid-19.
The size of these issues is thrown into stark relief when you consider our claims statistics for 2020. Even with a pandemic sweeping across the country, cancer and mental health claims represented the two most common claims last year.
Although the government promises to prioritise the reduction of hospital waiting times, offering NHS England £160m to tackle the backlog, with the length of current waiting lists all-round support is likely to become even more highly prized going forward. This is especially true for cancer-related care in a world where we expect to see more cancer claims on critical illness policies for years to come.
Against this backdrop, facilitating access to digital, direct health and wellbeing support is the most effective way to support employees — whether they’re continuing to work remotely or starting to return to offices
Another lasting impact of the pandemic has been on our mental health. According to Wade Macdonald, more than a quarter of employees – 28 per cent – felt their mental health declined due to prolonged lockdowns. Their research found 44 per cent also found working from home much harder — physically, mentally, and emotionally — than being in the office.
A review of our app data shows the extreme stress people have suffered. Employees made 972 bookings for mental health support via the digital app between April and August 2020; 76 per cent of these appointments were to treat stress, anxiety and depression. Early intervention for these conditions is key to a successful recovery, keeping people at work and improving wellbeing.
Agile, digital and providing much-needed wraparound support for employers and their teams, group risk has made an important contribution to many businesses’ wellbeing and productivity during the pandemic.
What we’ve leaned will be crucial as the post- pandemic world of work takes shape. Protection benefits provide important leverage for businesses trying to engage and motivate talent as the economy reopens. And with almost all the UK’s 50 biggest employers polled by the BBC saying they would welcome a hybrid working approach – with staff encouraged to work remotely 2-3 days a week – it will be needed more than ever. Indeed, a thorough group risk strategy will be the key to bridge the gap between employers saying their workforce is “united” and their staff actually feeling it.