1,197 eligible families in Kirklees are missing out on payments to buy food

Almost one in three families in England, Wales and Northern Ireland eligible for the Healthy Start scheme are missing out on NHS vouchers to buy food and milk for their children or to help them through their pregnancy.

By Harriet Clugston
Tuesday, 21st June 2022, 2:00 pm

Families are being urged to check if they are entitled to vouchers to help buy food for their children, after figures revealed almost 150,000 eligible households 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 to help buy fruit, vegetables, milk and infant formula.

The benefit is worth up to £36.96 per month per child through a prepaid card to use in stores – although older children and pregnant women get a bit less.

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The vouchers are for pregnant women or families with under-fours who get certain benefits, helping them to buy fruit, vegetables, milk and infant formula

But NHS data shows almost a third of the more than half a million households (155,000) eligible for the scheme were not claiming the support in March, as the cost of living crisis began to take hold in the UK.

In Kirklees, 74 per cent of families entitled to Healthy Start vouchers were claiming in March, leaving 1,197 eligible households unwittingly out of pocket.

This means that food worth £264,500 per year is going unclaimed in the district.

It comes as consumers face soaring food prices, with inflation hitting a record high.

Whole milk prices in the UK were 12.2 per cent higher in April compared to a year ago, according to the most recent Office for National Statistics Consumer Prices Index (CPI) figures – much higher than overall food inflation, which was 6.7 per cent.

Inflation for fruit meanwhile stood at 6.2 per cent and for vegetables at 4.6 per cent.

Research by NationalWorld meanwhile has found British supermarkets imposed price rises on one in four budget range grocery items last month, with almost 200 products affected.

In England, just 71.4 per cent of families entitled to Healthy Start vouchers were claiming in March, leaving 143,200 unwittingly out of pocket.

It means at least £34.2 million worth of food is going unclaimed per year.

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.

A lack of awareness, the bureaucratic nature of the sign-up process, and pride and stigma could all be factors in the low take-up rate, according to Feeding Britain director Andrew Forsey.

The charity says it is urging the Government “in the strongest possible terms” to maximise participation in the scheme – particularly as families struggle to put food on the table during the cost of living crisis.

It has also encouraged families to check whether they are eligible – the NHS has details on who can claim Healthy Start.