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Lidl moves before Government to support families with healthy food

A number of supermarkets have increased the amount a family can buy using Healthy Start vouchers, with the national voucher value only set to rise in April
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Lidl will increase the value of Healthy Start food vouchers for families living in poverty in England and Wales this week, three months ahead of a Government rise won by Marcus Rashford’s child food poverty taskforce.

The supermarket is one of a number of retailers which acted before the national increase expected in April. A £1.15 rise will bring the weekly value to £4.25. 

Pregnant women and low-income families with children under four receive the vouchers, helping them afford milk, fruit and vegetables. Campaigners say the support is vital amid soaring food poverty during the pandemic.

Lidl joined Tesco, which increased the value of the vouchers by £1 this winter, and Iceland, which offers free £1 pack of frozen vegetables to all families using Healthy Start, in increasing what parents can buy with the vouchers during the Covid-19 crisis.

Lidl’s policy will “make a huge difference to the most vulnerable people in communities,” campaigning Manchester United star Rashford said. He also encouraged more families to sign up to the scheme.

Sustainable food alliance Sustain UK welcomed the changes. A spokesperson added that they hope the changes will bring attention to the scheme and improve a chronic lack of uptake for the vouchers.

Co-op also upped the value of the vouchers by £1 this Christmas. 

Lidl’s move will “provide a healthy boost for mothers and children at this difficult time,” a Sustain spokesperson said.

Only around half of eligible families use the Healthy Start scheme, the alliance said, driven mainly by “avoidable barriers to applying for and using the vouchers and limited government promotion” of the initiative. It is not currently possible to apply for the vouchers online, leaving families to submit a form by post. 

“We hope this encourages eligible families currently missing out to register,” Sustain added. “With Lidl and other supermarkets throwing their weight behind the scheme and further Covid-19 restrictions likely to cause continued financial insecurity for many, government should take further action by extending the scheme to include all pregnant women and families with young children in receipt of Universal Credit and by running a high profile promotional campaign to increase uptake.

“Currently only families receiving Universal Credit that earn £408 or less a month from employment are eligible for the scheme.

Covid-19 has made tackling rising child food poverty a matter of national urgency

“These changes would ensure even more families and children can benefit from a healthy start in life.”

Lidl’s decision builds on the work of Marcus Rashford’s Child Food Poverty Taskforce. The campaigners made an increase in Healthy Start voucher value one of its key asks for the Government.

“I’m delighted that Lidl has made such a positive move,” Rashford said. “We were thrilled when the government committed to increasing the value of the vouchers from April next year.

“However there is an urgent need to act now.

“I would encourage all parents and families that need that extra support to sign up to the government’s scheme.”

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Campaigners have long called for Healthy Start to be brought to the attention of more families and for the application process to be brought online. Figures from the Healthy Start Issuing Unit (HSIU) for England and Wales showed thousands of families missed out on £28.6 million worth of vouchers in 2018, rising to more than £46 million in 2019.

“The huge strain on family budgets resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic has made tackling rising child food poverty a matter of national urgency,” said National Food Strategy lead Henry Dimbleby.“That’s why one of our key recommendations in the National Food Strategy Part 1 was for the Government to increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers.”

Dimbleby said they help disadvantaged children access the nutritious food they need.

He was “delighted” by the retailer and Government decisions, he said. “This will have a rapid impact on the health of our most vulnerable children at a most critical time.”