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Protect babies and children from malnutrition in cost of living crisis, government urged

More than 200,000 babies, pregnant mothers and children are missing out on nutritious food according to a letter signed by almost 70 MPs and organisations.

Happy infant baby boy spoon eats itself;

Children are missing out on nutritious food in the cost of living crisis. Image: Shutterstock

Almost 30 organisations and 40 MPs have written to the government urging them to protect children and young families from the dangers of malnutrition as food prices continue to rocket in the cost of living crisis.

More than 200,000 babies, pregnant mothers and children are missing out on £53 million of nutritious food, according to the letter from Labour’s South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck.

Opposition MPs — as well as one Conservative, the Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dan Poulter —  and organisations including The Big Issue have signed the letter calling on the health secretary to automatically enrol all eligible families for the NHS Healthy Start Scheme.

The scheme is a “lifeline” for families with young children and pregnant women, Lewell-Buck wrote, providing access to healthy fruit, vegetables, milk and vitamins which are vital to a child’s development, mental health and physical health.

Uptake across England, Wales and Northern Ireland in March of this year was just 64% of eligible families, with some areas facing uptake as low as 50%. This is more than 200,000 babies, children and pregnant mothers missing out on £53 million worth of nutritious food.

Lord Bird, founder of The Big Issue, called the Healthy Start Scheme and decreasing the amount of unhealthy food choices “a sure social and economic winner for us all”.

“It increases the chance that all pregnant women can give their babies the best start in life and gives all children the opportunity to flourish at their education because they are not studying whilst nutritionally deficient,” Lord Bird said. “Let us set our minds to increasing all children’s futures by this simple and rewarding government support.”

Other organisations backing the letter include the UK committee for Unicef, the Royal College of Midwives, the Food Foundation, Which?, the Independent Food Aid Network and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.



Food prices rose 19.1% in April but the cost of budget food items or staples is often higher still. Whole milk is 26% more expensive and the price of vegetables is up nearly 20%.

Lewell-Buck has put forward a Healthy Start Scheme Bill in parliament, which would ensure all eligible families are automatically enrolled.

Last year, the government set itself a target to enrol 75% of those eligible by the end of March 2023 but missed that target by 11%. The equivalent scheme in Scotland reached 88% uptake.

Families with young children are being hit hard by the cost of living crisis. According to the Food Foundation, more than one in four (27%) of households with a child under the age of four experienced food insecurity in January 2023.

“The government knows which families are missing out on the scheme but is failing to come up with a solution to ensure they are registered,” Lewell-Buck wrote to Health Secretary Steve Barclay. “The proposed Healthy Start Scheme Bill, which has received cross party support, would widen take-up through automatic enrolment to reach those who do not know they are eligible. This way, families could opt-out of the scheme if they wish.

“We would urge you to consider adopting the proposals included in the bill to ensure that every child has the best possible start in life.”

The Department for Health has been approached for comment.

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