Over 250,000 parents are currently missing out on government food vouchers, which they are eligible to claim.
Official figures show that the take-up of the government’s ‘Healthy Start’ scheme has dropped from 73 per cent in April 2015 to 48 per cent in June 2020, reports the Mirror.
Drop in people claiming the vouchers
The current take-up is the lowest at any point in the last five years, and had already dropped at the beginning of this year.
In January, only 54 per cent of those eligible were getting the £3.10 per week fruit, vegetable and milk vouchers. Figures show that in June 2020, just 251,547 out of 523,627 people eligible for the vouchers received them.
Feeding Britain national director, Andrew Forsey, told the Mirror, “Healthy Start vouchers have the potential to become such an effective tool for a Prime Minister whose mission is to improve the nation's diet.
“But hundreds of thousands of poorer children are missing out on their entitlement to millions of pounds' worth of fruit and vegetables every year.”
What are the Healthy Start vouchers?
The vouchers were first launched in 2006 and go to parents of children under the age of four who are on certain benefits.
The £3.10 per week value of the voucher has not increased since 2009, despite the rise in food prices.
Feeding Britain explains that if the vouchers had risen with inflation they would now be worth £3.80. The charity has also called for an automatic registration process so families opt out of receiving the vouchers, rather than opting in, doing so by ticking a box on the Child Benefit form.
Who is eligible?
To claim Healthy Start vouchers, you must be at least 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under four years old, and you must also receive one of the following benefits:
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Child Tax Credit with a family income of £16,190 or less per year
- Pension Credit
- Universal Credit with 'take home pay' of £408 or less per month for the family
You also qualify for the vouchers if you are under 18 and pregnant, even if you don’t get any of the benefits listed above.
You can get the vouchers if you're on Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, but only while pregnant and not after the baby is born.
Most eligible parents receive one voucher per week, except those who have children aged under one, who get two vouchers per week.
They can be exchanged for fruit and vegetables, milk and baby formula. From October, pulses and canned fruit and vegetables can also be exchanged for the vouchers.
How to apply
To apply, visit the Healthy Start website. You can either print off a blank form, or fill out an online application form which you then print off at the end before posting. A digital scheme for the vouchers is expected by 2021.
Currently, it takes up to 14 days for paper vouchers to be sent back, after an application clears the government checks.