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Social Justice

Hancock agrees to open healthy food scheme to children from migrant families

The government was set to face a legal challenge of the Healthy Start scheme’s treatment of Black and minority ethnic children, but agreed to review the rules before a hearing could take place

The UK government will extend the Healthy Start voucher scheme to thousands of disadvantaged children under four years of age who were previously denied the support because of their families’ immigration status.

Matt Hancock agreed to broaden the eligibility criteria of the programme after a team of lawyers brought a legal challenge against the government on behalf of a British one-year-old and her mother.

The scheme provides vouchers worth £4.25 per child per week to low-income families for milk and healthy food, but – as with other UK benefits – locks out families who do not have final settled status in the UK. 

“This is a great outcome for some of the most disadvantaged children in our society who should have never been excluded from accessing this essential support in the first place,” said Olivia Halse, the MG&Co solicitor representing the mother and her child. 

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“We hope this extension will go some way toward tackling health inequalities and child food poverty in the UK and help provide these children with a healthy start in life.  Now more than ever, the most deprived families need the additional help that the Healthy Start scheme was intended to provide.”

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In February, the High Court agreed with the claimants that the scheme could be indirectly discriminating against children from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds and breaching their human rights.

But before the hearing could take place, the health secretary agreed to hold a consultation this winter on making the scheme available to more families.

As a result the Healthy Start scheme will change to include all British children aged under four whose families would qualify for state support if it were not for their immigration status, the solicitor said. The government will also immediately give the vouchers to the family who brought the legal challenge.

The no recourse to public funds policy means thousands of households across the UK are refused basic welfare support because of their immigration status, affecting an estimated 1.4 million people according to the Joint of Welfare for Immigrants.

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The lawyers acted on behalf of the one-year-old – identified as child “A” – who is a British citizen and her mother, whose household income is nearly 40 per cent below the average income for households able to claim benefits. The child’s mother can live and work in the UK but is not entitled to claim benefits because of her immigration status.

“Whilst this victory is a step in the right direction, the no recourse to public funds (NRPF) restriction continues to exclude thousands of disadvantaged children and families from migrant backgrounds from a whole host of vital services,” Halse added.

“We hope that the government will seriously consider the NRPF condition and the devastating impact it has on vulnerable children and families, many of whom are from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds.”

The Department of Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.

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