Healthy Start and Best Start are food welfare schemes. They provide pregnant women, pregnant women under the age of 18 and children aged 1-4 years old with one £4.25 voucher per week to purchase fresh, frozen or tinned fruit and vegetables, pulses and grains, cows milk or infant formula. Children under one year old can get two £4.25 vouchers (£8.50) per week.
Pregnant women and young children in low-income families can struggle to access healthy food such as fruit and vegetables which is especially important during pregnancy and early years development. These vouchers help tackle this health inequality by supporting children and pregnant women with an important means-tested nutritional safety net so families can make healthy food choices.
Unfortunately, many families miss out on these important vouchers – in some areas only 55% of eligible families are receiving them. Not all families on Universal Credit are eligible either, only those that earn less than £408 a month.
Join our Healthy Start email forum
A chance to ask questions, share resources and get support from others working on the scheme. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to join and once subscribed you can then send a message to everyone in the group by emailing email@example.com.
What can you do locally?
Food poverty alliances, public health professionals, community groups, retailers and local authorities can play a vital role in helping to increase the uptake of Healthy Start vouchers in their area, for example by:
- Finding out the current uptake in your local area with the latest NHS data, updated every 4 weeks or use this Food Justice Finder tool
- Helping ensure Healthy Start is available and promoted in relevant settings, with trained staff/volunteers able to support families to apply (e.g., children’s centres, GP offices, etc.)
- Translating promotional material into other common languages in your community so everyone is made aware of the scheme. This leaflet includes 10 translations and can be downloaded and used for free (with thanks to Lambeth Council).
- Working with statutory and volunteer advice services to embed info about Healthy Start eligibility into routine support offered
- Meeting with local public health decision-makers to discuss low uptake and how it can be addressed, including sharing research on the lost total income to families
- Working with local food retailers to improve in-store promotion of the vouchers
- Partnering with Alexandra Rose to increase voucher value if applicable
- Appointing a council officer or health professional to oversee Healthy Start in the area
- Join our Healthy Start email forum to ask questions, share resources and get support from others working on the scheme. Details below.
What needs to be done nationally?
Local communities should not be left to promote the scheme alone. To ensure it has the desired impact, Government should show leadership by:
- Funding a £5 million communications campaign to increase awareness and uptake of the Healthy Start scheme to support the existing promotion by public health professionals, community groups and retailers
- Extending the scheme to all families in receipt of Universal Credit so a further 250,000 children are able to benefit, as recommended in the National Food Strategy
- Establishing a clear application process for British children from families with no resource to public funds (NRPF) so all children, no matter their backgrounds, can have the best start in life.
- Making the most of Healthy Start: A toolkit for local action (Food Power and London Food Link, 2019)
- Healthy Start and Best Start Learning Network webinar (Food Power Festival, May 2021)
- Healthy Start eligibility calculator (End Child Food Poverty, May 2021)
- Food poverty alliances' case studies on promoting Healthy Start and Best Start
- Making the Most of Healthy Start: A Practical Guide (First Steps Nutrition Trust 2017)
- Healthy Start: What happened? What next? (First Steps Nutrition Trust 2018)
Healthy Start is the scheme used in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Best Start is used in Scotland. Best Start uses a pre-paid card system whilst the Healthy Start scheme currently uses a paper voucher system but will transition to a digital pre-paid card in Autumn 2021.
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