News from Unmesh Desai: Over 1000 local households missing out on vital Healthy Start vouchers
48 per cent of eligible households in Barking and Dagenham are missing out on Healthy Start vouchers, according to new data obtained from the NHS Business Services Authority.
This means-tested voucher scheme, introduced by the Government in 2006, is aimed at helping low-income families with the cost of essentials such as fruit, vegetables, milk and infant formula. Responding to the figures local London Assembly Member, Unmesh Desai AM, urged eligible families to take up their allocation and called on the Government to increase their investment in the scheme.
Currently pregnant women on a low income, or under the age of 18, and children aged 1-4 in households receiving certain social security benefits are all eligible for one £3.10 Healthy Start voucher per week. Children under one year old are entitled to two £3.10 vouchers each week.
1,365 households currently benefit from the voucher scheme in Barking and Dagenham. Across London, this figure totals 36,375 with the overall uptake rate across the capital at just 53 per cent.
This comes against the backdrop of figures published in a report by the First Steps Nutrition Trust which estimates the annual Government spend on Healthy Start vouchers in the UK almost halved between 2011 and 2018.
Alongside declining Government investment, the First Steps Nutrition Trust has also highlighted issues such as the complexity of the application process and the lack of promotion and awareness surrounding the scheme.
The food and farming charity, Sustain, has outlined a series of measures that can be taken to improve the uptake of Healthy Start vouchers. These include the more effective promotion of the scheme by advice services and, in appropriate settings such as GP surgeries and children’s centres, and its more widespread adoption by local food retailers - a call recently reinforced by the Association of Convenience Stores.
Mr Desai is also echoing calls made in Parliament for the Government to increase the value of the voucher, which has not been updated since 2009, to reflect rising food costs.
In the London Food Strategy, published in December 2018, the Mayor of London has pledged to work alongside relevant partners to boost the uptake of Healthy Start vouchers to 80 per cent of eligibility as well as encouraging more retailers, such as markets and convenience stores, to accept the vouchers.
The latest Trussell Trust data shows that 4005 three-day emergency food parcels were handed out in Barking and Dagenham between April 2018 and March 2019, with 1756 of these going to children. This marks a 15 per cent increase on the same period in the previous year.
Local London Assembly Member, Unmesh Desai AM, said:
“It is alarming to see declining Government investment and local engagement in the scheme at a time when so many local families are struggling to put food on the table.
“In recent years, the Government has failed to resource or put measures in place to sufficiently promote the scheme, effectively allowing it to slide down to the bottom of the list of their priorities.
“We are also in danger of this vital scheme becoming increasingly unfit for purpose with the value of the vouchers not being increased to keep up with rising food costs for almost a decade.
“Whilst the Mayor has recognised the importance of these vouchers in the fight against child obesity and malnutrition in his London Food Strategy, we need to see more robust interventions from the Government to incentivise a higher uptake of the scheme by eligible households and local retailers.”
Notes to editors
- Nationwide data on the Healthy Start voucher scheme has been provided following requests to the NHS Business Services Authority. Figures showing the London borough take-up rates, covering the period between 29 April 2019 - 26 May 2019, can be found in the attached table. The term ‘eligible’ used in the table refers to the number of households that would be able to apply to the Healthy Start scheme according to HMRC and DWP scan data. The term ‘entitled’ refers to the number of completed applications that have been received by the scheme
- Pregnant women on a low income, or under the age of 18, and children aged 1-4 in households receiving certain social security benefits are all eligible for one £3.10 Healthy Start voucher per week. Children under one year old are entitled to two £3.10 vouchers each week
- A report by the First Steps Nutrition Trust estimates the annual Government spend on Healthy Food vouchers in the UK has almost halved between 2011 and 2018, with estimated investment at £89.93 million in 2011, compared to just £46.96 million in 2018
- Alongside declining Government investment, the First Steps Nutrition Trust report also highlights issues such as the complexity of the application process and the lack of promotion and awareness surrounding the scheme
- According to the report, during the period of the first contract between 2014-2017, national voucher uptake rates fell from 76 per cent to 67 per cent
- The food and farming charity, Sustain, has outlined a series of measures that can be taken to improve the uptake of Healthy Start vouchers
- Mr Desai is also echoing calls made in Parliament for the Government to increase the value of the voucher, which has not been updated since 2009, to reflect rising food costs
- The Mayor’s London Food Strategy can be read here
- The latest Trussell Trust data broken down for each London borough can be found attached
- Unmesh Desai AM is the London Assembly Member for City and East
For more information, please contact Research and Support Officer Nicholas Wilson on 020 7983 4401. Number not for publication.