Over 200,000 parents miss out on £53m Healthy Start vouchers

Over a third of eligible parents are not receiving the Healthy Start voucher scheme, which is intended to help families afford essential items like baby formula. This revelation comes after a Sky News investigation into the extreme measures UK families are taking to feed their infants due to the soaring cost of baby formula milk. Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck is introducing a Private Member’s Bill in Westminster today, urging the government to automatically enrol families for Healthy Start vouchers.

Lewell-Buck, the MP for South Shields, stated that the uptake of the voucher scheme across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland is a mere 64%, with some areas experiencing uptake as low as 50%. This means that over 200,000 eligible individuals are missing out on £53m worth of nutritious food. She went on to say that the situation for families is desperate, and the Healthy Start Scheme is not reaching everyone it should.

Even when the vouchers are received, the average payment of £7.86 is insufficient for most formulas on the market. However, Lewell-Buck’s bill aims to at least get the payment to those who need it.

A spokesperson for the charity First Steps Nutrition told Sky News that the Healthy Start scheme is intended to provide a nutritional safety net for pregnant teenagers, as well as mums, babies, and toddlers in families with the lowest incomes. The scheme offers cash to help them purchase fruits, vegetables, milk, and other essential foods, including infant formula. However, with the benefit amount frozen as food prices reach record highs, the spokesperson said the scheme is not fit for purpose. Poor diets during pregnancy and a child’s early years can have lifelong negative health implications.

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The government has not yet committed to overhauling the Healthy Start voucher scheme, although it has repeatedly claimed that families can access additional help to cope with rising costs. A spokesperson informed Sky News that in April 2021, the value of Healthy Start increased from £3.10 to £4.25 per week, offering extra support to eligible pregnant women and families with children under four to make healthy food choices. Eligible children under one can now receive £8.50 per week, up from £6.20.

Other MPs have already called for the value of Healthy Start vouchers to be raised urgently, given that the average price of a tub of formula milk has risen 24% over the past two years. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expressed sympathy for parents forced to steal baby formula in late May, stating that support is available to help alleviate the cost of living. However, Lewell-Buck is calling for immediate action and hopes that cross-party support can bring visibility to this issue and prompt the government to take action.

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Jamie Cartwright

Jamie is a keen traveler, writer, and (English) teacher. A few years after finishing school in the East Mids, UK, he went traveling around South America and Asia. Several teaching and writing jobs, he found himself at The Thaiger where he mostly covers international news and events.

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