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01 Dec 2021
by Geoff Guerin

Reducing the financial hardship and emotional strain of a seriously ill child on employees

When a child becomes seriously ill, although the NHS provides world-class medical care, parents often become part of the care team. This clearly has a significant financial and emotional impact on the parental challenge of balancing the demands of work.




Few employees appreciate the legal position of having a seriously ill child. While staff are entitled to 18 weeks’ leave for each child up to their 18th birthday, parental leave is unpaid by law. The limit on how much parental leave each parent can take in a year is 4 weeks for each child (unless the employer agrees otherwise) and they must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months.

Shifting demographics

This worry is felt even more acutely by the self-employed segment of the workforce, especially those who may be working flexible hours. In 2021, approximately 4.3 million (13%) workers are self-employed within our 32.4 million-strong workforce. The lifestyle benefits of a hairdresser, graphic designer or plumber working to suit childcare or partner commitments, are soon outweighed when shift patterns become impossible due to frequent hospital visits or the need for round the clock home care during their child’s medical crisis.

Shifting demographics is another key driver. When a working mum must juggle the care needs of small children along with those of frail or sick parents, then they face a stressful ‘domino effect’. We can’t solve both layers of the ‘sandwich generation’ but knowing that at least the sick child ‘bottom slice’ is financially taken care of ensures that mums and dads can focus on the ageing parent ‘top slice.’

Loss of income

When developing a new cash plan benefit in response to these trends, we undertook our own research to explore the impact on a family should a child become severely ill or have a serious accident. We found that when a child medical crisis hits, the maternal instinct was for the mother to take the care lead, not wanting to hand over the role to grandparents, family, or friends. Half of the parents who took part in the research felt they would need to give up work should one of their children become severely ill or suffer a serious accident.

A loss or reduction in household income is clearly one major concern, but what about additional costs? Although the NHS is free and provides quality medical care, the extra family care costs soon mount up. The charity, Young Lives vs Cancer, interviewed 400 parents in 2016, found that they were spending an average of £600 a month extra during active treatment on expenses due to their child’s cancer. Two in five (42%) parents had stopped working as a consequence of their child’s cancer, and a fifth (19%) took over a year of unpaid leave.

The biggest monthly expenses for families were travel, food and parking with energy bills and car-related costs. Unsurprisingly, three in five parents (61%) had built up debt because of their child’s diagnosis. One in six (17%) had borrowed over £5,000.


We are proud to be the first provider in the cash plan market to offer a new benefit for working families that provides monetary assistance during an unsettling time. Our Healthy Choices health cash plan now includes ChildMax Insurance, which is exclusive to working parents and enables them to take up to a year’s paid leave to look after a child diagnosed with one of 12 specified illnesses or one of seven medical conditions following an accident. ChildMax will cover the selected wages, either £1,000 or £2,000 per month, for parents taking unpaid leave to look after a child under the age of 18.

We hope that the availability of this benefit can make life financially and emotionally easier for the self-employed and employees alike.

The author is Geoff Guerin, chief strategy and operating officer at BHSF.

This article is provided by BHSF.

In partnership with BHSF

BHSF is a market-leading health and wellbeing provider.

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