Families are being urged to check if they are entitled to vouchers from the Healthy Start scheme to help buy food for their children, after figures revealed that almost 150,00 eligible households in the UK were not claiming before the cost of living crisis.
Pregnant women or parents and guardians to children aged under four, who are receiving certain benefits are entitled to NHS Healthy Start vouchers. The provision can help them to buy fruit, vegetables, milk and infant formula.
How many families are missing out in Birmingham?
In March 2022 there were 18,063 families eligible for the scheme in Birmingham but uptake was only 73% meaning only 13,131 families collected the payments.
That means there are 4,932 families in Birmingham who are missing out on the payments.
New figures reveal there is a minimum missed cost of £1,090,000.
Birmingham ranked 131st nationally for uptake - out of 335 local authorities.
The benefit is worth up to £36.96 per month, per child, and can be used through a prepaid card in stores.
The new figures come as consumers face soaring food prices and record high inflation as part of the cost of living crisis.
According to the most recent data from the Office for National Statistics Consumer Prices Index (CPI), whole milk prices in the UK were 12.2% higher in April compared to a year ago,
overall food inflation was 6.7%, inflation on fruit was 6.2% and vegetables hit 4.6%.
But despite the cost of living crisis just 71.4% of eligible families in England claimed Healthy Start vouchers in March 2022 - leaving 143,200 families out of pocket.
In Wales, take up was 78.5% (6,300 not claiming) and in Northern Ireland it was 70.5% (5,400 missing out).
It means at least £34.2 million worth of food is going unclaimed per year.
What needs to change to improve the statistics?
The charity Feeding Britain is campaigning for the Healthy Start scheme to be switched to an opt-out rather than opt-in basis, to ensure the support gets to as many families as possible.
Andrew Forsey, who is director of Feeding Britain, fears that the bureaucratic nature of the sign up paired with stigma could be impacting take up rates.
Andrew said: “We think between them, that the Government and local authorities hold the data that show them exactly who is entitled to what. All we need is that little bit of extra effort to sign families up automatically while of course giving them a chance to opt out.
“So we’re asking the Government in the strongest possible terms to maximise take-up of the schemes that exist to help people because sadly at the minute people are falling through the cracks.”
The charity is urging the Government to maximise participation in the scheme, especially during the cost of living crisis.
A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are committed to promoting a healthy diet for children and providing support to families who need it the most through our Healthy Start Scheme.
“The introduction of an online application and prepaid card for the Healthy Start scheme has led to over 125,000 new successful applications from people who did not benefit from the scheme’s previous paper vouchers.
“Applicants to the Healthy Start scheme must agree to the terms and conditions of their new pre-paid care prior to receiving it.
“For this reason, we are unable to enrol all families that are eligible onto the scheme automatically.”
Who is eligible for the Healthy Start scheme?
Women who are pregnant or families with children under four may be entitled to the scheme if they receive certain benefits.
People who are on Universal Credit can apply if they are at least 10 weeks pregnant or have one child under four, their monthly take-home pay from employment is £408 or less.
People who get Child Tax Credit can apply if they have at least one child under four and their families annual income is £16,190 or less.
Successful applicants will get a prepaid Healthy Start card which is topped up every four weeks.
Pregnant women and those with children aged between one and four will get £4.25 a week (£18.48 a month).
Those with children aged 0 to 1 get £8.50 a week - which is £36.96 a month.
The prepaid card can be used to buy fresh, frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables, cow’s milk and formula for babies up to 12 months (not including follow-on formula).
How to apply?
The application process is on the NHS website - it requires a name, address, date of birth, National Insurance number, benefit award letters and baby due date letters if the applicant is pregnant.
To apply or find out more information visit the website here.
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