NHS healthy food vouchers

Food poverty is on the rise in the world and in the UK. Low income families with young children and pregnant mothers are worst affected by it. The NHS healthy food vouchers had aimed to help vulnerable families during the current food crisis in the UK. But survey has shown that it’s take up has not risen since one year.

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The NHS healthy food vouchers

Currently, the UK is in the midst of an alarming food crisis. Food and grocery prices have skyrocketed. Inflation rate is at an all time high of 10.4%. There are shortages of fruits and vegetables. Hence, supermarkets had started rationing the fresh food commodities.

And in all this, the poor are the worst hit. Young families with low income have been unable to procure enough food to feed themselves. 27% have high food insecurity. Regular and healthy eating is beyond their limits.

NHS healthy food vouchers
Healthy start vouchers (Source: Beacon medical group)

Hence, the government started the NHS healthy food vouchers for vulnerable parents of young children. Pregnant women and parents of children under the age of 4 and in low income group could avail these vouchers. It would buy them milk, baby milk powder, fruits and vegetables. But the take up was less and it has not risen in past one year.

The take up of the vouchers

Only 64% of the eligible people from England, Wales and Northern Ireland used these Heathy Start vouchers until end of March 2023. Last year, this figure was 63%. Food foundation revealed that at the start, the government had aimed to have at least 75% of eligible people enrol for it. But the target was not reached. Moreover, in contrast in Scotland, 88% of the eligible families used the scheme.

NHS healthy food vouchers
The NHS healthy food vouchers (Source: Sure Start Children’s centre)

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, 550000 low income mothers who are either pregnant or have kids below age of 4 were eligible for this benefit scheme. This scheme promises weekly payment per child of £4.25 during pregnancy. And after birth up to one year of age, this payment per week per child is £8.50 a week. And after that, it is £4.25 per week per child.

The scheme came up in 2017. In early 2020, only 50% took benefit. With covid pandemic, some rise in percentage was noticed. But in late 2021, when paper vouchers were replaced by digital ones, the percent fell again. There have been technical issues and delays.

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Latest data reveals that more than 4 million children in the UK are in food poverty zone. There is a request to have automatic enrolment for the scheme. Their eligibility needs to be increased and payment also requires to be raised. But Whitehall has not heeded the calls. The executive director of Food Foundation, Anna Taylor says:

Healthy Start is a highly targeted scheme that should be helping families most in need, but pitifully low uptake levels mean there are families all over the country who are missing out on this statutory scheme.”

NHS healthy food vouchers
NHS healthy food vouchers (Source: Food Sense Wales)