The Government is set to push through a £20 a week cut to Universal Credit, a decision that will hit 5.5 million families.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that, on average, 21 percent of all working-age families (with or without children) will experience a £1,040-a-year cut to their incomes on 6 October. Families with children will be disproportionately affected: six in ten of all single-parent families in the UK will be impacted.
In a country which has more food banks than McDonald’s, it is critical that the uptake of existing support schemes is increased. Healthy Start is one such scheme to help buy basic foods like milk or fruit. You can qualify for Healthy Start vouchers if you are pregnant or have a child under 4 and are on certain benefits, or if you are under 18.
Brought in by the last Labour Government in 2006, the scheme is seen as crucial in ensuring families can access healthy foods that may otherwise be unaffordable. Yet the uptake has fallen in recent years, with more than 200,000 eligible people not receiving support.
Raising awareness really does work
At the beginning of the year, the take up of Healthy Start vouchers in the East of England was just 47 percent. It meant that more than half of the 50,000 people eligible for the scheme in the region were not receiving support. In 2015, the uptake was vastly higher – 69 percent in the East of England (73 percent nationwide).
There are no definitive reasons as to why the uptake has fallen in recent years, but a lack of awareness is likely to be key. Many family services which would have signposted the scheme have been cut over the past decade, with children’s centres and health visitors being two clear examples. It is questionable whether the local authorities who have cut these services have adequately sought to promote Healthy Start since.
However, after campaigns by Marcus Rashford and the Co-operative Party, things look to be moving in the right direction. At the end of July, the uptake rate of the vouchers stood at 55 percent in the East of England. With thousands of families still missing out on additional support, there is much work still to be done. Yet it shows that, through highlighting the scheme in the local press, on social media, and in schools, nurseries and other similar settings, you can increase awareness and uptake.
Marcus Rashford’s influence
Marcus Rashford has made a life changing difference to thousands, if not millions, of children and families through his campaigning and charitable activities.
Healthy Start has been one of Rashford’s key focuses. In response to his Child Food Poverty Taskforce’s demands, the Government increased the value of Healthy Start vouchers from £3.10 to £4.25 per week in April.
More recently, he has urged health workers to spread awareness about the food vouchers in an effort to boost take up.
Cecily Spelling from Sustain, has outlined the other key areas of improvement needed to ensure more people benefit from Healthy Start:
- Fund a £5 million communications campaign to increase awareness and uptake
- Extend the scheme to all families in receipt of Universal Credit
- Remove barriers to access the digital scheme
- A clear application process for British children from families with no resource to public funds (NRPF)
Marcus Rashford’s work to increase the value and awareness of Healthy Start has been nothing short of exceptional. As Cecily says in her piece:
It’s time for government to stop taking a back seat and show some real leadership because overstretched health professionals and professional footballers shouldn’t have to do this alone.
East of England Co-op leading the way
As a member of Marcus Rashford’s Child Food Poverty Taskforce, the East of England Co-op has long been a leader in providing additional support to families. From September 2020, the food retailer had been topping up Healthy Start vouchers, increasing their value from £3.10 to £4.25 in lieu of Government action.
The Government finally met some of Rashford’s demands and increased the value of Healthy Start vouchers to £4.25 in April this year.
The East of England Co-op again went further and this time provided a 75p uplift to the scheme, meaning the overall value of the vouchers now stands at £5. Once the vouchers have been received, they just need to be presented at the till when buying any eligible food items. The value will automatically be topped up to £5.
The East of England Co-op Joint Chief Executive, Niall O’Keeffe, said at the time:
Our Co-op welcomes the Government’s decision to increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers. No child should have to go hungry and through our work to tackle and understand food poverty in our region we have seen the effect that food insecurity has had on local parents and children.
“Whilst welcoming this much-needed change from the Government, we feel that we must go further to ensure families can access healthy nutritious food and so we are proud to be topping up the new value of Healthy Start vouchers to £5.
Other big retailers are also playing their part, with Waitrose increasing the value of Healthy Start vouchers to £5.75, a £1.50 top up. The vouchers can also be used at Aldi, Lidl, Asda, Iceland, Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsbury’s.
What can a Healthy Start voucher provide and are you eligible?
Healthy Start vouchers can be used to buy fresh fruit, vegetables and milk, providing crucial access to healthy food for those who need it most: qualifying pregnant women, babies and toddlers.
You can qualify for Healthy Start if you are at least 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under four years old and you or your family receive:
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance *
- Child Tax Credit with a family income of £16,190 or less per year
- Pension Credit; or
- Universal Credit with no earned income or total earned income of £408 or less per month for the family. (To find this refer to your Universal Credit award notice in the section “your take home pay for this month”.)
You also qualify if you are under 18 and pregnant, even if you don’t get any of the above benefits.
More information about Healthy Start can be found here: https://www.healthystart.nhs.uk/
Spread the word
Even if you do not qualify for Healthy Start yourself, it is important to help publicise the scheme so that those who need the support can access it. You could:
- Encourage appropriate settings to promote Healthy Start: schools, nurseries, playgroups, children’s centres, GP surgeries;
- Ask local family-focused charities to do the same;
- Urge local councils and politicians to use their platform, connections and resources to highlight the scheme, and to put measures in place to increase the uptake;
- Work with local retailers to ensure in-store promotion of Healthy Start;
- Share information about Healthy Start on social media. You can start by sharing this article using our links below! 👇👇👇
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