More than 130,000 families with young children who are eligible for free food are failing to claim what they are entitled to under the Healthy Start programme.
Introduced in 2006, the scheme offers free vouchers weekly for pregnant mothers or those with a child under a four years old to help buy basic healthy foods.
But it is not well-known, according to 27 national charities and health bodies, including food poverty charities Sustain and The Trussell Trust as well as the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), who have penned an open letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock calling for greater exposure.
The group wants better investment to make the scheme common knowledge as Brexit continues to dominate matters in Westminster.
“The bottom line is that much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos.” – @Alston_UNSRhttps://t.co/9xbdFM7SX8
— The Big Issue (@BigIssue) May 31, 2019
And that means that £28.6 million–worth of fruit, vegetables and milk went unclaimed last year as a result – just 64 per cent was claimed.
The voucher adds at least £3.10 per child to a family shop with enough to afford buy two litres of semi-skimmed milk, 1kg carrots, 900g frozen peas and four apples at a typical discount supermarket, according to the group.
This can be worth up to £900 per child for the first four years of their life, they conclude, amounting to 1,090 pints of milk, 1,100 apples, 218kg of carrots and 143kg of peas.
“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,” said Kath Dalmeny, chief executive of Sustain.
“Over four 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.”
The Big Issue magazine is read by an estimated 379,195 people across the UK and circulates 82,294 copies every week.
The Big Issue has placed food poverty in the UK under the microscope recently following two reports into the issue and its relation to human rights last month.
We found stories of how those with the least are forced to turn to foodbanks or to eat unhealthy, processed foods as that is the only cheaply available sustenance that they can access.
8.4 million Britons regularly struggle to put food on the table
Food bank use has increased four-fold since 2012
There are now approx. 2,000 food banks, up from just 29 a decade ago
— Right To Food UK (@right2fooduk) June 3, 2019
The Healthy Start programme aims to combat that from an early age, giving health practitioners and parents the tools to tackle childhood obesity from an early age.
That’s why the open letter is demanding more help for pregnant women and new parents to apply for the vouchers as well as a confirmed date for the promised consultation on Health Start as outlined in the government’s Childhood Obesity plan for action last June. Sustain are asking people to write to their MP as part of the campaign.
The government has confirmed that they are exploring options to digitise the scheme by introducing a digital payment card.
Shirley Cramer CBE, chief executive of RSPH said “Having access to nutritious food required for healthy development is a right of every child. The Healthy Start scheme must be fully utilised, as it has great potential to help combat the rising rates of childhood obesity.”