Call to increase value of Healthy Start Vouchers

Catherine Gaunt
Tuesday, November 3, 2020

More than 50 public health experts have signed a letter to the Chancellor and health secretary, calling for an increase in the value of the Healthy Start vouchers for low-income families.

The Healthy Start scheme entitles low-income families to vouchers to pay for fruit and vegetables, but has not risen in value since 2009
The Healthy Start scheme entitles low-income families to vouchers to pay for fruit and vegetables, but has not risen in value since 2009

The scheme provides pregnant women and low-income families in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with children under four with free vitamins and food vouchers to purchase vegetables, fruit, pulses and milk. 

The vouchers are worth £3.10 a week per child, but have not risen in value since 2009.

The letter is calling for the vouchers to increase to £4.25 a week. 

Marcus Rashford’s End Child Food Poverty campaign is calling for this, alongside the expansion of free school meals and holiday provision.

These three issues are also key recommendations from the Healthy Food Strategy, which have been adopted by the footballer, whose free school meals petition has been signed by more than a million people.

The letter makes the point that to really tackle issues around food insecurity and rising obesity rates, a focus needs to be put into early years support schemes, highlighting that the value of Healthy Start vouchers has not risen in line with inflation over the past decade. 

Campaigners are calling for £115 million per year of extra funding towards improving the Healthy Start scheme, by implementing the recommendations proposed in Part One of the National Food Strategy:  

  • Increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers to £4.25 per week
  • Expand the scheme to every pregnant woman and household with children under four in receipt of Universal Credit or equivalent benefits 
  • Fund a communications campaign costing £5 million  

Meanwhile, two of the big supermarkets – Tesco and Iceland – have a pledged to top up Healthy Start vouchers over the winter.

Tesco, which is just one of the brands that has signed up to the 'child food poverty taskforce', set up by Marcus Rashford, has just announced that it will top up the vouchers by £1. It  follows Iceland’s decision in September that it will add £1 of frozen veg to each voucher redeemed in its stores. 

The letter urges the Government to act as well as businesses. 

Marcus Rashford said he was ‘thrilled’ at Tesco’s decision.

‘Increasing the value of the Healthy Start vouchers is a key ask of this Taskforce but in the true spirit of togetherness, and with true understanding of need, Tesco has not waited for action but, instead, has taken action. I'm extremely grateful as this move will make a big difference to the lives of nearly 500,000.’

Bushra, from Liverpool, said, ‘I’ve had the vouchers for about a year and they’ve definitely made a difference to our family with what we can buy. Having the vouchers means when I go shopping I can buy more fruit and veg and make different meals. I can also give my children fruit for their snacks. We felt a big effect from the coronavirus and lockdown, everything changed completely, and it was harder to get what we needed.’

The letter has been signed by leading healthcare professionals, academics  and public health experts, including Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

‘As paediatricians we know the necessity of good nutrition for children and young people,’ he said. ‘Food insecurity is sadly part of life for too many children in the UK, and the pandemic has made this problem even more acute. We have a long winter ahead of us and ramping up funding for the Healthy Start scheme is an easy way to make a difference, quickly, where it's most urgently needed.’

Caroline Bovey, chair of the British Dietetic Association, said, ‘Healthy Start is an important means of improving the nutrition of families and in particular young children, at a point in their life where it will have a particularly significant impact. We know that even before COVID-19, many families were food insecure, but many more will have been made so by the pandemic. Healthy Start is an existing programme that can be strengthened easily and quickly and therefore have a rapid impact.’

Henry Dimbleby, independent lead on the National Food Strategy, said, ‘The problem of food poverty is real and serious, and the pandemic is only increasing that pressure. That’s why one of the recommendations of the National Food Strategy is for the Government to increase the value of the Healthy Start Vouchers – a great way to help children get the fruit and vegetables they need to thrive.’

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