Pregnant woman buying fruit and vegetables. Credit: Ivan Samkov / Pexels
Sustain and the Food Foundation wrote an open letter to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid outlining the urgent improvements that need to happen on the Healthy Start scheme.
In response to a previous open letter from Sustain and Food Foundation, Ministers admitted ‘that there have been some issues with the transition to the new Healthy Start scheme’. But despite progress in addressing some of the technical glitches in the digitisation of Healthy Start, reports of ongoing issues are being raised by frontline healthcare professionals and eligible families, for example via the Healthy Start Facebook page, and have been widely covered in The Guardian, The Sun, Mirror Online and local news sites such as Somerset Live.
Sofia Parente, Policy and Campaigns Coordinator at Sustain said:
"Too many families are still locked out to Healthy Start for no fault of their own. Remaining technical errors need to be swiftly investigated and addressed and there needs to be urgent investment in additional capacity for the support centre to ensure users are well-supported. Beneficiaries that have been rejected due to glitches should automatically receive back-payments."
On top of that, the weekly value of the payments is no longer sufficient to cover the cost of infant formula. According to analysis by First Steps Nutrition Trust, between August 2021 and May 2022, the cost of formula has increased by as much as 14% - more than double the average increase in food prices . Governments needs to increase the Healthy Start allowance from £8.50 to £10 a week for infants and from £4.25 to £5 a week for pregnant women and children aged 1-4 years old and keep this value under close review given the levels of inflation.
The scheme is available to a small number of families and only to children up to the age of 4, excluding many families experiencing food insecurity and leaving a gap between eligibility to Healthy Start and Free School Meals. To make matters worse, a promised consultation to extend the scheme to children from households with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) has yet to be announced.
Take-up remains low and targeted promotion needs to reach those who have not yet signed up and remain unaware of the scheme and the role of retailers should also be harnessed to help the promotion of the scheme.
Zoe McIntyre, Project Manager of The Food Foundation’s Children’s Right2Food Campaign said:
"The recently published Government’s Food Strategy failed to prioritise the Healthy Start scheme, an important nutritional safety net for pregnant women and families with young children. With rising food costs adding ever more pressure to family budgets, this is missed opportunity that we hope will be picked up in the Health Inequalities White Paper we expect soon."
Download the open letter to Health Secretary Sajid Javid here.
 First Steps Nutrition Trust (2022), What the cost-of-living crisis means for infants and young children and recommended actions, Briefing