A recent successful legal challenge to the eligibility criteria for Healthy Start vitamins and vouchers has resulted in more families being able to access the scheme.
Mums to be, and families with children who were previously unable to benefit from the scheme because of their parents’ immigration status, are now entitled to Healthy Start support, including many children living legally in Liverpool whose parents have no recourse to public funds.
The Healthy Start Scheme aims to improve health and help reduce child poverty and health inequalities by providing free vitamins, nutritional advice and weekly food vouchers to mums to be and families with children up to the age of 4. Vouchers can be used by eligible families to buy milk, nutritional food or infant formula.
Until now the eligibility criteria excluded some of the UK’s poorest children, notably those in the UK from migrant backgrounds whose families are unable to claim mainstream benefits, which has been the trigger for the entitlement. As a consequence, mums to be, babies and toddlers from the most financially deprived households were going without the nutritional food and vitamins needed for a healthy start in life.
Dr Naomi Maynard, coordinator of Feeding Liverpool, the city’s food alliance, explains the difference widening access to Healthy Start will make in the lives of many families in our city:
“Over the last 6 months, over 1,800 foodbank parcels have been given to families with children in Liverpool who are seeking asylum, many of whom have no recourse to public funds. These families are reliant on this emergency food provision, locked out of a welfare system that is meant to be there for everyone, when they are most in need.
For families such as Alayna’s, who we met at Micah Liverpool after she had recently arrived in Liverpool to seek asylum with her 2 year old daughter from Iran, the expansion of the Healthy Start scheme will be transformative. The vouchers will enable the family to choose their own fresh fruit and vegetables, have more control over their diet and not be reliant on what has been delivered to the foodbank that day.”
Annette James, Micah Liverpool trustee and volunteer, and Feeding Liverpool steering group member explains:
“The Healthy Start scheme is an effective tool to give all children the very best start in life. It is a valuable asset for nutrition and increasing levels of vitamins, most notably vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) for mums to be, babies and children in low-income families. Widening the criteria for eligibility is a positive step; it is an opportunity to increase uptake for all eligible families, and will have a positive impact on the health and well being of the most marginalised in our communities.”
The Government has promised a wider review of the Healthy Start scheme this winter to explore how else it can make the scheme available to more families.
This review is welcomed by Feeding Liverpool, who support the #RightToFood Campaign and are developing and driving forward Liverpool’s Good Food Plan , with communities across Liverpool, working to create a city where everyone can eat good food.
Following calls made by national food charity Sustain, Feeding Liverpool would like to see the Healthy Start scheme extended to all children from families in receipt of Universal Credit, not just those earning less than £408 a month as is currently required. As well as a commitment to fund a communications campaign to increase awareness and uptake of the scheme.