Some things are hard to talk about and it’s all too easy to bury your head in the sand, and critical illness cover is one of them. But, with 70% of UK parents admitting they don’t have any form of critical illness policy, it’s time we started talking.

More than half of the parents we asked (nearly 60%) admitted that they wouldn’t be able to meet the costs of day to day family needs such as childcare and transport, 25% said they’d have to use savings and more than a quarter (27%) said they’d rely on government support. But what happens when those savings run dry and you can’t meet the cost of treatment, home adaptations or other lifestyle changes?

Nobody wants to admit they’re vulnerable, especially when the welfare of loved ones could be at risk. But a critical illness policy isn’t about tempting fate; it’s about being prepared and making sure that you and the people you care about can carry on without worrying about finances. So what exactly is critical insurance cover and more importantly, do you need it?

It seems that part of the problem lies in deciphering exactly what critical illness cover includes. More than one third of the parents we interviewed believed that it replaced some or all of your income if you became ill or had an accident, while 21% of parents thought that it paid for private medical treatment.

The one feature most of do them have in common is that they offer long term cover that pays out a sum of money should the worst happen. Critical illness policies usually pay out one tax free lump sum which is when the policy will end. That lump sum can be spent however you want – whether it’s treatment, making changes to your home or covering everyday costs while you recuperate.

The types of illness your policy covers will be down to the agreement between you and the insurer. Some policies will cover specific illnesses or conditions such as a heart attack or stroke. When it comes to cancer, policies may cover some but not all types so it’s important to check.

We’re all guilty of thinking it won’t happen to us, but in 2014, it did happen for 128,500 families who had the foresight to have a critical illness policy or life insurance. More than 97% of those families received a payment from their insurers to help cover costs so that they could carry on.

It doesn’t have to be expensive either. Premiums will depend on your age and health but a healthy 30 year old could add on £15,000 worth of critical cover to a £150,000 life insurance policy for as little as £2.15 more per month.

Whether you need critical illness cover is a matter for your own conscience but if you’re self-employed or don’t benefit from an employee benefits package at work then it might be worth considering. Even more so if you can’t rely on savings and as benefits continue to be cut.

To add to this, Jody Baker, our Head of Life Insurance says: “It is worrying that parents are relying on death in service payments from their employers rather than taking out comprehensive cover. Death in service often pays out around three to four times your salary but this may not be enough to cover all your beneficiaries’ financial commitments. You also only receive the payment if you die whilst working for that company, but as the population is living and working for longer we are far more likely to lose our income through illness than we are to pass away before the end of our working life.”

As a parent, your first instinct is to protect your family. This sometimes means having to face up to hard truths and the key question is – can you afford not to have critical illness cover? While it’s true that we’re all living longer and for many of us all that means is we’ll be a little slower, there are bigger risks associated with longevity – such as dementia, Parkinson’s or heart disease.

So perhaps now is a good time to take the first step to securing your family’s future. Start comparing critical illness cover to see just what it could cover and what it could cost you. If you keep putting it off until tomorrow, it could cost your family far more.