We all deserve a healthy start
In February the Government committed to start measuring household food insecurity following calls from Sustain, End Hunger UK and others. Here Muna Reyal explores a key way to get good food to those that need it most.
We all know eating fruit and veg is good, vital even, for our health. For most it means making an effort to swap puddings for fruit or eat more veg but for others, cost is an only-too-real barrier. That’s where Healthy Start comes in.
Healthy Start Vouchers help pregnant women and parents or carers with children under four years on a low income purchase fresh fruit and veg. The vouchers can be spent at registered retailers and are worth £3.10 per child, which goes a long way to cover a week’s worth of fruit and veg.
Yet the scheme isn’t well known, meaning £4.5 million lies unclaimed in London alone, and £28.6 million nationally in 2018. ‘We think it’s time we addressed these unclaimed millions’ explains Lailah Nesbitt-Ahmed, coordinator of the London Food Poverty Campaign. ‘For example in Enfield, a borough with lower uptake, up to £159,000 goes unclaimed meaning families are missing out on help toward the cost of healthy food and the chance to give their children a healthy start’. The campaign encourages councils to address food poverty, beyond the food bank and is currently looking at ways to increase uptake.
Currently most of the claimed vouchers are spent at the big supermarkets, but they can be used at independent shops, markets and box schemes who are registered, giving the local economy a boost too.
‘We want more local retailers such as corner shops to get involved and local authorities to play a bigger role, working with health visitors and midwives to encourage sign up and promotion of the scheme’ explains Sofia Parente, from the Veg Cities Campaign, who are also pushing uptake of the vouchers.
A rosier outlook
The Alexandra Rose Charity works in children’s centres in London, Liverpool and Barnsley; their Rose vouchers can be exchanged for fruit and veg by families eligible for Healthy Start Vouchers, giving these families even better access to healthy food. Jonathan Pauling, who heads up the Charity explains ‘a focus on early years is crucial as not only does this impact on a child’s growth and development but it sets up health and good habits for life’.
As the Rose Vouchers are used at street markets they support local traders as well as families. For example North End Road Market in Fulham joined in 2017 and since then has traded an £30,000 of fruit and veg through Rose Vouchers. Alexandra Rose Charity is working to sign up markets to in other areas.
Sustain, along with 26 other national charities and healthy bodies, has just written an open letter to Matt Hancock MP asking for better investment into Healthy Start so no child misses out this year. Join the call and write to your MP today to help ensure every child has a healthy start.
Read more about the London Food Poverty Campaign.