Blogs / Food Poverty

London Challenge Poverty week: Healthy Start and lived experience

Sustain was involved in two events as part of London Challenge Poverty week, helping to amplify the voices of experts by experience and explore how we can ensure a Healthy Start for all Londoners. In this blog we share some of the key discussions.

London Challenge Poverty Week aims to bring Londoners (and others) together to increase the visibility of poverty in London, encourage positive debate and discussion and showcase action being taken to tackle poverty and call for the changes we need to end it. To support this week of action, Sustain got involved in three events. 

London Child Poverty Summit

Tiffanie Cummings, who is working with Sustain as a lived experience consultant, spoke at the London Child Poverty Summit about her personal experiences as a mother of three children using a food bank. 

Tiffanie reflected about the mental health impacts of having to make difficult decisions around food as well as the benefits of being given cash to make her own decisions about what food to buy. About the opportunity to speak on the panel Tiffanie says:

“I am very happy to be a voice for the voiceless and will continue to do all I can to support and empower people with complex needs.”

Food Power: Lesosns learnt for London and beyond

With support from 4 in 10, London's child poverty campaign network, we hosted a webinar to launch a new report sharing lessons from Food Power on how to tackle food poverty through dignified, effective and sustinable responses. Read our summary of the report recommendations and watch the recording.

A Healthy Start for all Londoners

Thanks to support from 4 in 10, we brought practitioners together for an online workshop on the Healthy Start scheme. In this we shared examples of best practice and discussed both the barriers and solutions to reversing the downward trend in uptake.

Promoting Healthy Start in London

We were lucky to be joined by three London Boroughs who shared the promotional projects they had undertaken:

  • Southwark Council carried out focus groups with health professionals, professionals working in children centres and families using the vouchers. The focus groups proved the vouchers were popular but no participants were clear on what could be purchased with the vouchers or where they could be spent. To address this the council began a training programme for front line workers. 
  • Greenwich Council identified eligible beneficiaries in the borough and delivered two targeted mail outs to 1,561 residents. They also ran a two week long social media campaign to tie in with the value increase of the vouchers in April 2021. The next focus for their work is to ensure they can support local markets to continue benefitting from the scheme once it is digitised in 2022.
  • Enfield Council identified 996 eligible families and sent them a healthy start pack which included a promotional leaflet, application form, leaflet, letter from the Healthy Start scheme and a £45 supermarket e-voucher. This outreach resulted in a 4% increase in uptake from February to June 2021. 

Challenges and barriers

Attendees then moved into breakout groups to discuss the barriers that are hindering uptake of the scheme in London and across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. As the scheme is in the process of moving from a paper-based scheme to a digital pre-paid card system, discussion included challenges for both models. Barriers included:

  • Unclear timelines and mixed messages from the central team leading on the digitisation which is preventing further promotional work by councils and community groups.
  • Funding cuts in the public and voluntary sector have led to both the closure of many front-line services such as children centres whilst also limiting the capacity of organisations to understand and promote the scheme.
  • Misconceptions amongst families that they will lose their other benefits if they claim for Healthy Start.
  • Digital exclusion for eligible families that lack digital access to register for and benefit from the scheme.

Opportunities and solutions

To balance the challenges we also discussed the opportunities and solutions available and came up with an almost endless list of action that could be taken at a local and national level to increase uptake of the scheme. This included recommendations outlined in our Healthy Start toolkit for local action, many of which local authorities are already undertaking. Additional suggestions included:

  • Promotional campaigns including television and radio adverts, billboards, bus stop advertising, promotional resources and more with the aim of more families becoming aware of the scheme and apply.
  • Automatic enrolment in the scheme to reduce the barriers families face in hearing about and applying for the scheme.
  • A shared learning space for practitioners to share best practice, learn from each other and identify opportunities.
  • More funding and support to deliver trainings amongst health professionals, community groups, retailers and more.

Another big improvement for the scheme would have been to increase eligibility to include all mothers and children in receipt of Universal Credit, but unfortunately the Government ignored this opportunity in the latest Budget

For now we will continue to call for change at a national level and work together locally to share learning and support each other so everyone, no matter their circumstances, can have a healthy start in life.

Watch the 'Healthy Start for all Londoners' webinar recording

Published 3 Nov 2021

Food Poverty: Over 5 million 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 joined Sustain in September 2020 as the Communications and Network Coordinator for the Food Power project and the Food Learning Forum (on maternity cover).

Cecily Spelling
Communications and Events Coordinator Food Power

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