Government urged to improve scheme designed to help struggling families pay for baby food

Campaigners in Trafford say low-income families are missing out on thousands of pounds worth of a food benefit which is used to help feed babies and young children.

The national Healthy Start scheme assists parents, carers and pregnant women pay for milk, formula, fruit and vegetables.

Politicians in Trafford are also calling on the government to increase the value of the scheme to support parents during the cost of living crisis.

Pregnant women and parents and carers or who have children aged three or under are eligible for the scheme. It is worth £4.25 for each week of pregnancy from 10 weeks, then £8.50 a week for babies up to one year old, and £4.25 a week for children up to four years old.

Last year the government changed how the money was handed out from paper vouchers that could be redeemed at supermarkets to a prepaid card system. However there have been technical difficulties in this process.

It is estimated millions of pounds worth of the benefit go unclaimed across the country. This means families who are entitled to help are facing hardship due to complications in the system and delays in being accepted onto the digital scheme.

The value of the benefit has not changed since April 2021, although analysis from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service found the price of infant formula has increased substantially since then, with the cost of the cheapest brands increasing by 22%.

The rate of inflation has also been unequal across food groups with higher inflation on fresh produce meaning those receiving the benefit get less food for their money.

The Council is part of a multi-agency task force with partners which has been set up to share best practice to support and increase uptake of the Healthy Start scheme.

Trafford Council has also placed taking people out of poverty at the top of its corporate priority list, and has established a Poverty Truth Commission which has brought people who have real experience of poverty together with leaders from organisations across Trafford to discuss solutions for the issue.

Support for the campaign has also come from Andrew Western, the recently elected MP for Stretford and Urmston and the former Leader of Trafford Council. He plans to raise the matter in Parliament.

Cllr Jo Harding, Executive Member for Culture, Leisure and Strategic Partnerships at Trafford Council, said:

“Some of the stories we are hearing about the struggle families are facing to feed their babies and young children are shocking.

“The government needs to get its act together and make claiming this benefit easier and also needs to increase its worth to bring into line with the true of living.

“We are in the middle of a cost of living crisis and this scheme is needed more than ever to help families afford healthy fresh food and baby formula for their youngest children.

“If this government is serious about lifting families out of poverty and giving every child the best start in life, the Healthy Start scheme would be the right place to start.“

Posted on Tuesday 7th February 2023