A voucher scheme designed to help families afford essentials like baby formula is failing to reach over a third of eligible parents.
Calls for an immediate shake up of the Healthy Start voucher system follow a Sky News investigation into the desperate measures families across the UK are taking to feed their babies due the spiralling cost of baby formula milk.
Labour MP, Emma Lewell-Buck, will today introduce a Private Member’s Bill in Westminster urging the government to automatically enrol families for Healthy Start vouchers.
The South Shields MP said: “Too many families are missing out as uptake across England, Wales and Northern Ireland is a pitiful 64% with some areas facing uptake as low as 50%.
“It is calculated this equates to over 200,000 of those eligible missing out on £53m worth of nutritious food.”
She added: “As the Sky News investigation into the difficulty facing young families in getting access to baby formula showed, the situation for families is desperate and the Healthy Start Scheme isn’t reaching everyone that it should do.
“Even when it does, the average payment of £7.86 isn’t enough for most formulas on the market. But my bill will at least get the payment to those who need it.”
A spokesperson for the charity First Steps Nutrition told Sky News: “The Healthy Start scheme is meant to be a nutritional safety net for pregnant teenagers, and mums, babies and toddlers in families on the lowest incomes – providing cash to help them buy fruits, vegetables, milk and other essential foods.
“For many families this includes infant formula. But with the benefit amount frozen as food prices reach record highs, it is not fit for purpose.
“Poor diets in pregnancy and the first few years of a child’s life can have life-long negative health implications.
“It is shocking and inexcusable that the government continue to display such apathy and disinterest to this matter.”
PM sorry for parents stealing baby formula
The government has repeatedly said families can access extra help to cope with rising costs but has not yet committed to overhaul the Healthy Start voucher scheme.
A spokesperson told Sky News: “In April 2021, the value of Healthy Start rose from £3.10 to £4.25 per week, providing additional support to eligible pregnant women and families with children aged under four to make healthy food choices.
“Eligible children aged under one can each receive £8.50 in total per week, a rise from £6.20 a week.”
Other MPs have already called for the value of Healthy Start vouchers to be raised as a matter of urgency given that the average price of a tub of formula milk has risen 24% over the past two years.
The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told Sky News at the end of May that he felt sorry for parents forced to steal baby formula but that support was available to help alleviate the cost of living.
Ms Lewell-Buck though called for immediate action: “So far, the government response has been paltry and dismissive, often pointing to sums of money not reaching those in need.
“So, with my bill, I’m hoping that cross-party support can get this simple mechanism the visibility it deserves and force the government to take action.”