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5.5 million workers have no financial back-up if they have to take time off work without pay

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UK employees are leaving themselves 'woefully unprotected' financially in the event that something unpredictable happens, leaving them unable to work.

According to new research from Unum, the average worker could only survive financially for around four weeks without their full current salary.

The report found 21% of UK workers, equivalent to 5.5 million adults, admit to having no financial back-up in place at all, whether it is savings or an insurance policy such as income protection, or even the ability to rely on their partner or family.

Unum’s research shows almost half of all UK workers have been off work for more than a week due to illness or injury at some point in their career and approximately two million workers currently in employment have had to take off six months or more.

While, on average, workers expect to receive full pay from their employer for four weeks should they be unable to work due to illness or injury, the reality is often quite different with Unum’s research showing that one in 10 of those who have been off work sick for over a week not receiving full pay for any part of their absence.

Marco Forato, Unum's chief marketing officer, said: "It’s really quite concerning to see that so many people are living on a knife edge when it comes to financial protection.  Our research shows that too many people seem to be either unaware that they can take steps to protect themselves against an unpredictable event that can lead to the loss of their full income for a long period of time or are burying their heads in the sand and adopting an attitude of ‘it won’t happen to me’.

"Employers can, and should, play an important role in providing access to financial protection through the workplace. However, only one in 10 British workers have some form of cover in place to protect them if they couldn't work. In the economic climate, companies are looking for improved performance and we know there is a proven link between creating a good working environment and business success. Good companies know that engaging with employees to provide access to financial protection both benefits their business and safeguards their employees."

On a regional basis, Unum’s research reveals workers living in Wales and the North East are potentially the most exposed, with 32% and 24%, respectively, admitting to having no financial security net should they be unable to work. Those in the South East and Scotland seem the best prepared, with only 17% and 16% of workers living in these areas, respectively, having no back-up plan.

Of those who say that they do have a financial security net, the burden on loved ones should anything go wrong could be significant, with a quarter (25%) saying that they will have to rely on their partner and around the same proportion (24%) relying on their family for support should they be unable to work. Only just over one in 10 workers has any form of financial protection cover. And 44% say that they can rely on their own savings.