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It’s time for government to step up on Healthy Start

Marcus Rashford’s excellent campaigning shines a light on Healthy Start but for real impact we need government to step up and deliver. Here's how...

Veg Cities / Ian Marshall Photography

Veg Cities / Ian Marshall Photography

Another day and another excellent campaign move from Marcus Rashford. This time the England and Manchester United footballer has written an open letter in the British Medical Journal asking for health professionals to help spread the word about the Healthy Start scheme.

"We need you - every single one of you -to help us reach those most in need in our communities."

Spot on. Health professionals have been instrumental in promoting the scheme so far and without them uptake would be even lower. As health professionals point out though, their services have been cut to the bone in recent years resulting in teams that are stretched beyond measure. We know this too because we work with the Institute of Health Visitors, the Royal College of Midwifery and others; all are in agreement that more central government support is needed If they’re to have real impact.

Over the past year Marcus Rashford and the NHS have carried this country, fighting for lives and an end to child food poverty. Now it’s time for government to stop taking a back seat and show some real leadership because overstretched health professionals and professional footballers shouldn’t have to do this alone. 

Here’s what that leadership should look like:

  • Fund a £5 million communications campaign to increase awareness and uptake

Over 40% of eligible families are still missing out on the scheme despite many, including food poverty alliances, working hard to promote it. Clearly more needs to be done to reach those who could benefit and the best way to achieve that would be a government lead communications campaign. Community groups in Scotland have hailed communications for their Best Start scheme as key to increasing uptake and awareness. 

  • Extend the scheme to all families in receipt of Universal Credit

As it stands, only families on Universal Credit that earn less than £408 a month are eligible for the scheme, meaning over 250,000 children are unable to benefit despite living in household food insecurity. To ensure every child living in food poverty is able to benefit from the scheme, government should expand the scheme to all families with incomes under £20,000 as recommended in the National Food Strategy to ensure a further 73% of food insecure families benefit. 

  • Barriers to access the digital scheme are removed

The scheme is set to be digitised in the Autumn so families can apply online and use a pre-paid card instead of paper vouchers. However, as Marcus has pointed out in his letter, not everyone is digitally connected so alternative options need to be provided to remove digital divides. In addition, users will need to call a contact centre that charges 55p per minute to register their card or check their balance. This charge needs to be removed because it could prevent families from progressing their applications if they simply cannot afford to call.

  • A clear application process for British children from families with no resource to public funds (NRPF)

In June 2021 the Government conceded a legal challenge and announced the scheme would be extended to British children from families with no recourse to public funds. Yet according to our network of public health professionals, newly eligible families have been left waiting with no information or correspondence from the Department for Health and Social Care on the application process. We want the Government to deliver its legal duty and outline the application process to ensure all eligible families can access this support. 

These recommendations would help the Government deliver its ‘levelling up’ agenda and not leave Marcus Rashford and all those working in communities to do this alone.

Published Thursday 5 August 2021

Food Poverty: Millions of people in the UK struggle to get enough to eat. We’re working to change that through people-powered projects and campaigns that tackle the root causes of food poverty and ensure everyone has dignified access to healthy, affordable food.

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Cecily worked at Sustain for two years from September 2020 as the Communications and Network Coordinator for Food Power, the Food Roots Incubator and the Food Learning Forum.

Cecily Spelling
Communications and Events Coordinator
Food Power

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