82% of public in East of England back raising value of Healthy Start vouchers

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New polling released today has found that 82% of the public in East of England back raising the value of NHS Healthy Start vouchers in line with inflation.

The NHS Healthy Start scheme provides up to £8.50 a week to eligible families with children under 4, which can be spent on fruit, vegetables, milk and infant formula. However, recent increases in the cost of food and formula due to inflation are challenging the effectiveness of the scheme. The cost of infant formula for example has risen by as much as 14% in recent months, so £8.50 of vouchers no longer covers the cost of a single tin of most infant formula brands. 

Unlike traditional benefits, the NHS Healthy Start scheme is not uprated each year to match inflation. The Government last raised the value of Healthy Start vouchers in April 2021, following recommendations from Part One of the independent National Food Strategy and a campaign backed by the co-operative movement, food charities and Marcus Rashford. When questioned by a Co-operative Party MP on whether they would raise the value of the vouchers again in response to inflation, the Government said it had "no current plans" to do so. 

Joe Fortune, General Secretary of the Co-operative Party, said: "The NHS Healthy Start scheme is essential to ensuring that eligible families have access to healthy, nutritious food, and I'm proud that the co-operative movement and our party have long campaigned to support and expand the scheme. 

"The response of the public is clear: the Government has a duty to step in, prevent babies and children from going hungry, and help families struggling to pay for food and infant formula by increasing the value of the NHS Healthy Start scheme in line with inflation."

New data published via the Food Justice Finder initiative today found that Healthy Start uptake rates have risen from 47% to 69% in the East of England since the co-operative movement began its campaign to increase awareness and uptake rates of the scheme in 2021. However, at the current uptake rates, there are still at least £60,000 worth of food and formula vouchers going unclaimed by eligible families each week. 

Kat Reading, Community Development Manager of the East of England Co-op, which tops up the value of the base voucher from £4.25 to £5 and is running a new promotional scheme to increase Healthy Start uptake, said: "It is our duty as a co-operarive to support the communities that we serve, and we are incredibly proud to boost the value of Healthy Start Vouchers by 75 pence for local families. We welcomed the much-needed increase in Healthy Start Vouchers when it was introduced in 2021, but we feel more must be done to ensure families - not just those in the East of England, but across the country - have access to healthy and nutritious food.

"We encourage all local families who shop with us to see if they're eligible for Healthy Start Vouchers and this month will be adding even more signage in-store to remind families that they can use their vouchers with us."

For more information, contact the Co-operative Party.