EXCLUSIVE: The Start-Up Healthy Food Scheme saw £90m slashed over a decade

EXCLUSIVE: The Start-Up Healthy Food Scheme saw £90m slashed over a decade

Two years ago, when her second child was born, Marsha signed up for state health starter coupons. The scheme gives those who have a Universal Credit Program who are pregnant or have children under the age of four additional money to purchase healthy foods and claim free vitamins. “It really helps,” says Marsha from south London.

However, strict cuts in the system and high inflation on things that include staple foods mean that mothers and children are getting dwindling returns. “Nothing is going away at the moment, to be honest,” Marsha says. “Everything has gone up—milk and bread have gone up—but the money we get doesn’t look the same. It’s always a shopping bag less, every time, because you can’t buy it.”

In spite of cost of living Rising over the past few years, funding for Healthy Start has been cut. Freedom of Information Request from Food Alliance Keep And watch it exclusively Spotlightreveals that funding for the scheme has fallen to less than a third of what it was a decade ago, a loss of more than £90m.

Between the 2018-19 and 2019-20 financial years, the program budget was cut by more than half, from £95m to £44m. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Social Care said SpotlightThe Healthy Start Scheme is a demand-driven scheme, so the annual cost of the program may vary depending on the number of families applying for and receiving Healthy Start.

The funds are distributed from the scheme every four weeks. Quantity Given For young families and pregnant women vary according to circumstances: £4.25 per week for expectant mothers from the 10th week of pregnancy; £8.50 per week for one year olds; Families with a child aged one to four years get £4.25 per week.

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The scheme was powered by paper coupons that would offer discounts on health essentials at supermarkets. In October 2021, the government began digitizing the process. He. She It didn’t go well. According to a briefing for MPs written by Sustain in March, the online portal for people to sign up for the program has multiple problems, support phone lines are down, and worried parents have been complaining to the scheme’s official Facebook page about delays.

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As of September 8, 2022, the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA), which oversaw the transition and now the entire programme, said that as of September 8, 2022, about 44,500 households were not registered with the paper voucher scheme on the new digital system. Spotlight.

Sustainability government has acknowledged that there has been “Some issues with the transfer process”. The NHSBSA said more than 500,000 invitations had been sent out to encourage people to apply for the digital version, and that it had increased resources at the NHS Healthy Start call center by enrolling more support staff and offering a 24-hour automated helpline. She also said families whose applications were delayed were entitled to late payments.

[See also: Menopause support is woefully inadequate – we need action now]

“I found it very difficult,” says Marsha, who missed two months of payments when enrolling in the digital scheme, after administrative issues with support staff. “not fair, [because] you lose. She supports calls directed to those who, like her, were on the old system and missed payments during the transition period, to receive overdue payments. [support] Login to your account [weekly budget] Also, so when you lose it, you’re short.”

While the intentions of the Healthy Start Plan are well positioned, activists are frustrated with its implementation. “The program is badly needed,” says Sophia Barent of Sistine. “It provides a food safety net for families with young children and expectant mothers. We just wish more families would benefit.”

Concerns about health onset awareness persist. last year Only 57 percent of eligible people In England and Wales he took the scheme. More than two million eligible people lost, leaving an estimated £69 million on the table. “This is a feature run by the NHS and funded by the government. It should be something that is easily known about it,” said Dr. Naomi Maynard, director of the Feeding Liverpool food Alliance programme, which has conducted research on uptake of the system. Spotlight.

Maynard used Healthy Start herself when she unexpectedly became pregnant with her first child while studying for her PhD at university. She attributes the relatively low uptake to a lack of advertising for the scheme (“no central marketing and communications budget for a healthy start”), a previous lack of information about the program available in languages ​​other than English, and the effects of the pandemic, in which face-to-face contact has decreased between families, benefits counselors, and health professionals.

“If you’re a family on a tight budget, and you’re a little overwhelmed — perhaps by having a young child — you need to be mentioned more than once, many times by different people in different places,” Maynard says. “We can’t leave it up to the volunteer sector to promote it.”

In November 2021, after a legal challenge, the government agreed that families who had permission to live in the UK but did not have recourse to public funds were entitled to enroll in the Healthy Start program if they had a British child under four years old. And they were on low incomes.

“It’s a long, back-and-forth process, and they may still get rejected because of it,” notes Maynard, whose coalition helps people in such circumstances apply for the scheme.

A healthy start “needs to work harder to reach more families and children,” Barnett says. She adds that the plan also “must be expanded to children up to the age of five to close the eligibility gap between free school meals,” stressing that the Healthy Start program needs to provide more money to those already enrolled in the program to make up for higher inflation (the amount given to families has been increased). last time in April 2021).

In September, Liz Truss announced temporary measures capping the unit cost of gas and electricity, meaning the average energy bill for a household is equivalent to £2,500 a year, easing some of the increased family finances. But the high inflation of basic necessities, including food, will see millions continue to struggle with the cost of living.

“I don’t think anyone in that parliament has any understanding of what’s really going on,” Marsha says. “I am a little worried and very scared of what will happen – if I can actually heat my house and eat. This is where Healthy Start and all these charities start. [offering support] assistance, but I don’t think the government’s thinking or even adequate assistance at all.”

However, the diminishing amount offered by the scheme, along with rising costs, makes it difficult for Marsha to cook healthy meals for her and her family. “I can’t think of healthy or unhealthy [meals]’It’s about what I can afford now,’ she says. I have to close my eyes and eat it sometimes.”

[See also: General practice is in crisis – and the government is failing to act]

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