More than £1million worth of Healthy Start food vouchers go unclaimed each week despite rising fears over child hunger and poverty, campaigners reveal tonight.
Pregnant women and those with children aged under four are eligible for the coupons if they receive Child Tax Credit and if their family’s annual income is £16,190 or less; Income Support; Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance; Pension Credit which includes the child addition; or Universal Credit and if their family’s take-home pay is £408 or less per month from employment.
If families meet the criteria, they can get free vouchers or payments every four weeks to spend on cows’ milk; fresh, frozen or tinned fruit and vegetables; infant formula milk and fresh, dried, and tinned pulses.
The value of coupons rose from £3.10 to £4.25 this week and the scheme is aimed at getting youngsters eating healthily from an early age.
But research by the Cooperative Party has discovered take-up fell during the pandemic, with nearly half of vouchers going unclaimed.
According to latest data from January, only 51.6% of those eligible for Healthy Start vouchers in England actually claimed them – an average fall of 2.32% from the previous year.
At the start of the year(2021), 257,661 people were eligible for Healthy Start vouchers but did not claim them – with vouchers worth just over a million pounds, when this week’s hike is taken into account, going unused.
Cooperative Party general secretary Joe Fortune said: “Healthy Start is a vital scheme but the uplift in value will only be effective if the vouchers are actually getting into the hands of those who need them most.
“The pandemic has brought the crisis of child food poverty in this country to the fore.
“Given thousands of children go to bed hungry each night, it is scandalous that over £1million of food vouchers are being wasted – the Government must do more to promote the scheme nationally and support local authorities in ensuring the vouchers reach the families who need them.”
The Department of Health was approached for comment.
How to apply for Healthy Start
Who is eligible?
You must be at least 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under four years old.
You must also receive one of the following benefits:
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Child Tax Credit with a family income of £16,190 or less per year
- Pension Credit
- Universal Credit with ‘take home pay’ of £408 or less per month for the family
You also qualify if you are under 18 and pregnant, even if you don’t get any of the above benefits.
You can also get the vouchers if you’re on Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, but only while pregnant and not after the baby is born.
How do you apply?
Visit the Healthy Start website. You can either print off a blank form, or fill out an online application form which you then print off at the end.
You should fill out Part A carefully in black ink using CAPITAL letters.
Part B can be left blank – it involves getting a health professional’s signature. This has been suspended due to coronavirus.
Make sure all the information on the form is correct and that you have signed and dated it.
Send the form to the address below in an envelope – there’s no need for a stamp:
Healthy Start Issuing Unit
PO Box 1067
What do they buy?
Milk: This must be plain cow’s milk and can be whole, semi-skimmed or skimmed. It must also be pasteurised, sterilised, long-life or ultra-heat treated (UHT).
You can’t spend your vouchers on flavoured milk, coloured milk, evaporated milk, condensed milk, goat’s milk, soya milk, powdered milk (unless it’s infant formula) or milk with anything added to it such as milkshakes or vitamin-enriched milk.
Plain fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables: This means any kind of plain fresh or frozen fruit or vegetables, whole or chopped, packaged or loose.
You can’t spend your vouchers on any fruit or vegetables which have added ingredients such as fat (oil), salt, sugar or flavourings – including oven chips and battered onion rings. You also can’t spend them on dried, canned, juiced or pre-cooked fruit and vegetables (this will change in October) or on smoothies.
Infant formula milk: This must be infant formula milk that is based on cow’s milk and says on the packaging that it can be used from birth.
You can’t spend your vouchers on infant formulas that are not based on cow’s milk – such as soya formulas and goat’s milk formulas – or on any follow-on formulas that say on the packaging that they are for babies aged six months or older.
Where can they be spent?
In any shop that is registered to take part in the Healthy Start scheme. These include corner shops, supermarkets, market stalls, greengrocers, milk floats and pharmacies.
The Healthy Start website has a postcode finder.