Poor Families Missing Out on Free Food Vouchers

Thousands of families have missed out on a healthy food scheme in 2018 according to a campaign led by Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming. It is estimated that families in the East Midlands alone missed out on an estimated £2.2m worth of free fresh fruit, vegetables and milk. The coalition of charities and health bodies have warned the government that more than £28m of healthy food has been missed out on nationally by families in need.

Charities and health groups have warned Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock MP 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.

end hunger uk april 2019

End Hunger UK

Northamptonshire Food Poverty Network is supporting the call on the government to boost promotion of the Healthy Start scheme for low income families.

Rachel McGrath of Northamptonshire Food Poverty Network said: “We will campaign locally on behalf of our national partners to make sure that struggling families have access to fresh food. Given the alarming rates of children and families in poverty local government has a responsibility to ensure that the vouchers are fully utilised. We will be writing to local MPs to urge them to take up this issue.”

The coalition of 26 charities and healthy bodies includes Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming2, the Royal Society for Public Health, Royal College of Midwives and the Trussell Trust. They are calling 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 life3.

The vouchers add at least £3.10 to a family shop per child each week, which could buy two litres of semi-skimmed milk, 1kg carrots, 900g frozen peas and 4 apples at a typical discount supermarket. 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.”

The 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. The charities and health groups 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.

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.

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