Thousands of women and children miss out on healthy food scheme in 2018
Press release issued by Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming
Charities and health groups have warned Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock that low-income women and children in over 130,000 households are missing out on £28.6m of free fruit, vegetables and milk due to poor promotion of the Healthy Start voucher scheme. Of this, £4 million would have gone to families in the North West, a huge blow to the budgets of those who need it most.
The coalition of 26 charities and health bodies includes Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming, the Royal Society for Public Health, Royal College of Midwives and the Trussell Trust. They called on the Government to boost promotion of the Healthy Start voucher scheme, which can be worth up to £900 per child over the first four years of life.
The vouchers adds at least £3.10 to a family shop per child each week and over the first four years of a child’s life this is equivalent to 1,090 pints of milk, 1,100 apples, 218kg of carrots and 143kg of peas.
Kath Dalmeny, Chief Executive, Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming, said “The Government is missing a trick. This money has been set aside to support low income and young families, but the Healthy Start voucher scheme for fruit, vegetables and milk is not being properly managed or promoted. Over 4 million children are living in households who sometimes run out of money for essentials such as food – these vouchers can help keep good food on the table.”
Shirley Cramer, CBE, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Public Health, said “Having access to nutritious food required for healthy development is a right of every child. We know that healthy food is three times more expensive than unhealthy food; the scheme can help those at the greatest disadvantage in the most deprived areas.”
However in 2018, pregnant women and children missed out on an estimated £28.6 million worth of vouchers in England and Wales, representing a missed opportunity by government to help families afford to heed their young families and also to encourage healthy eating habits that could have lifelong benefits.
An open letter calls on the Government to fund a programme to ensure that midwives, health visitors, GPs and other relevant staff in health, social care and early years settings actively help all eligible pregnant women and new parents claim their Heathy Start vouchers. They suggest that this programme could be funded from the estimated £28.6 million of Healthy Start vouchers that went unclaimed last year.
The letter also asks the Government to confirm the date for a consultation on Healthy Start, which was committed to by the Department of Health and Social Care last June in Chapter 2 of Childhood Obesity: a plan for action.
The Sustain food and farming alliance, which coordinated the open letter, is also encouraging people to write to their MP about Healthy Start to make sure all children have access to fresh fruit and vegetables for a healthy start in life.
Average take-up of the vouchers in England and Wales was only 64% in 2018, or
approximately 135,000 households missing out, with no government funds dedicated to supporting local health service providers to promote the scheme. A map of current take-up rates in England and Wales is publicly available and updated monthly by the Department of Health.