02 Nov 2020

The BDA has joined an alliance of over 50 charities, professional bodies, local government figures and directors of public health to urge the government to provide urgent funding for the Healthy Start scheme. Healthy Start provides vouchers for healthy diet essentials such a fruit, vegetable and milk, as well as vitamin supplements, to children and families.

Currently, many people who are eligible are not accessing this support, in part because the scheme uses an archaic paper-copy application process. The value of the vouchers has also not increases since 2009, despite a significant increase in the cost of living since then.

Together we are calling for the government to increase the value of the vouchers to £4.25 a week, extend the scheme to include every pregnant woman or household with children under four in receipt of Universal Credie and fund a communications campaign to ensure more people access the support. It is estimated that in total this would cost £115 million a year. 

The recently published National Food Strategy Part 1 has also called for the government to increased the value of the couchers, expand the scheme and fund a communications campaign. Marcus Rashford's campaign on food poverty has also focused on strengthening Healthy Start as one of its key priorities.

You can read more in the Food Foundation's press release here, which features a quote from our chair, Caroline Bovey BEM RD. 

If you want to read more about our work on food poverty and offer your support, visit our Food Poverty and Insecurity campaign page. 

Read the full text of the letter below.

The devastating impact that Covid-19 continues to have on food insecurity means that the Healthy Start Scheme has never been so important in safeguarding the health and nutrition of young families. 14% of UK families with children have experienced food insecurity in the past six months[1] which, combined with the UK’s high levels of childhood obesity, looks set to further compound the poor health of the UK’s children. We are writing together as sector experts and healthcare professionals to call on the Government to put £115 million/year of additional funding towards improving the Healthy Start scheme by implementing the recommendations proposed in Part One of the National Food Strategy:

  • Increase the value of Healthy Start vouchers to £4.25 per week
  • Expand the scheme to every pregnant woman and household with children under four in receipt of Universal Credit or equivalent benefits[i]
  • Fund a communications campaign costing £5 million

Healthy Start provides low-income and young pregnant women and low income families with children under the age of 4 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with free vitamins for mothers and children, and food vouchers to purchase vegetables, fruit, pulses and cows’ milk. Where families do not breastfeed their infants, vouchers can also be spent on first infant formula. Inadequate nutrition during the first 1,000 days of life can have life-long consequences, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, type two diabetes, and obesity.[2] Inequalities mean low-income families may struggle to access and afford a healthy diet. There are striking inequalities in fruit and vegetable consumption, with the highest income groups consuming about 1.5 portions per day more than the lowest.[3] During lockdown, poorer children both snacked more and ate fewer fruit and vegetables than their wealthier counterparts.[4]

There are compelling reasons to act immediately. The scheme is a targeted and efficient way to reach those who are most vulnerable and in need of support, and helps to deliver on Government commitments to address inequalities, support parents, and help the country to recover from Covid-19.  Expanding and improving the scheme offers opportunity for it to fulfil your ‘levelling-up’ agenda.

Expanding the scope of the scheme to include a larger proportion of low-income families would benefit an additional 290,000 pregnant women and children under the age of 4.[5]  In 2019, less than 50% of children (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland) living in poverty were entitled to support from the Healthy Start scheme, and only 33% actually received it due to implementation problems.[6] Expansion would also mean economies of scale for UK retailers who are already engaged with the scheme and would have a further incentive to add value. Iceland, for example, now offer all recipients redeeming their vouchers in store a free £1 bag of frozen vegetables. The government as well as businesses must act to support the continued success of the scheme.

Unfortunately, the value of the voucher has not increased since 2009, despite inflation during this period having increased by 3.1%.[7] With fruit and vegetables costing almost three times more per kilocalorie than less healthy foods[8] and vulnerable to price fluctuations, an increase in the voucher value now would enable better health outcomes for the future. Therefore, we urge the government to increase the value of the voucher to £4.25 a week.

For families to benefit from this scheme, a concerted effort is needed to reverse the trend of low take-up. In June 2020, the take-up rate dropped to 48% (251,547 beneficiaries), meaning that 272,080 eligible beneficiaries were not registered for the scheme. This is despite 30,000 retailers and all of the ‘big four’ supermarkets accepting the vouchers in store. Five years ago, take-up stood at 73% (374,896 beneficiaries). Better communication and proactive promotion of the scheme through local authorities, healthcare visitors, community organisations and UK retailers is required to better notify and engage those who are eligible for the scheme.  Accelerating the digitisation programme (delayed until October 2021) would also help to remove the time and administrative burdens that are significant barriers to uptake.

We are ready to help in whatever way we can. We know that the nutrition and health of mothers and young children will have profound and life-long consequences for children’s futures. A fair start in life should be a key tenet of the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda. Now is the time to act.

Yours sincerely,

The Undersigned

Expand for a full list of signatories

Civil society

Anna Taylor, OBE, Executive Director, Food Foundation

Andrew Forsey, National Director, Feeding Britain

Jonathan Pauling, Chief Executive, Alexandra Rose Charity

Ben Reynolds, Deputy Chief Executive, Sustain

Dr Helen Crawley, Director, First Steps Nutrition

Nicola Howard, Director, First Place UK

Beatrice Merrick, Chief Executive, Early Education

Dr Ilana Levene and Dr Vicky Hunter, Paediatricians and Co-founders, The Hospital Infant Feeding Network

Dr Cheryll Adams, Executive Director, Institute of Health Visiting

Dr Natalie Shenker, Director, The Human Milk Foundation

Laurence Guinness, Chief Executive, The Childhood Trust

Kim Roberts, CEO, HENRY

Helen Gray and Clare Meynell, Joint Coordinators, World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTi), UK Steering Group

Sally Bunday, MBE, Founder, Hyperactive Children’s Support Group

Dr Marie Bryant, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Association for the Study of Obesity

Amy Calvert, Innovation manager, Good Food Barnsley

Dr Naomi Maynard, Project Development Lead, Together Liverpool

Ped Asgarian, Director, Feeding Bristol

Mandy Chambers, Project Manager, Rural Action Devonshire

Megan Mehnert, FOOD club coordinator, FOOD Clubs Bristol & BANES

Dr Matthew Philpott, Executive Director, Health Equalities Group

Sam Gillett, Head of Impact and Delivery, St John’s Foundation

Melissa Green, General Secretary, The Women’s Institute

Katie Palmer, Programme Manager, Food Sense Wales

Michele Shirlow MBE, Chief Executive, Food NI 

Professional Bodies

Andy Burman, Chief Executive, British Dietetic Association (BDA)

Professor Russell Viner, Professor of Adolescent Health, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH)

Christina Marriott, Chief Executive, Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH)

Clare Livingstone, Professional policy advisor, Royal College of Midwives (RCM)

Dr Cheryll Adams, Executive Director, Institute of Health Visiting (IHV)

Dr Arianne Matlin, Head of Health and Science Policy, British Dental Association (BDA)

Directors of Public Health

Sarah Muckle, Director of Public Health, City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council

Dr Rupert Suckling, Director of Public Health, Doncaster Council

Rachel Spencer-Henshall, Strategic Director – Corporate Strategy, Commissioning and Public Health, Kirklees Council

Dr Bruce Laurence, Director of Public Health, Bath & North East Somerset Council

Sam Crowe, Director of Public Health, Dorset & BCP Councils

Professor Virginia Pearson, Chief Officer for Communities, Public Health, Environment and Prosperity, Director of Public Health, Honorary Clinical Professor, University of Exeter College of Medicine and Health, Devon County Council

David Regan, Director of Public Health, Manchester City Council

Matthew Ashton, Director of Public Health, Honorary Professor, Public Health and Policy, University of Liverpool, Liverpool City Council

Eileen O’Meara, Director of Public Health and Protection, Halton Borough Council

Rebecca Nunn, Consultant in Public Health, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham

Carole Furlong, Director of Public Health, Harrow Council

Alice Wiseman, Director of Public Health, Gateshead Council

Academia and local government

Dr Debbie Weekes-Bernard, Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement, Greater London Authority

Rumaysa Jassat, Children’s Health Promoter, Leicester City Council

Milly Carmichael, Health Improvement Officer - Food Poverty, Claire Davies, Public Health Development and Commissioning Manager, and Sarah Heathcote, Development and Commissioning Manager, BANES Council

Councillor Steve Fritchley, Leader of Bolsover District Council, Bolsover District Council

Dr Clare Relton, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Trials, Institute of Population Health Sciences, Barts and London School of Medicine


[1] Food Foundation: YouGov Plc Polling Data. Total sample size was 2,309 parents or guardians living with children under 18 years. https://foodfoundation.org.uk/new-food-foundation-data-sept-2020/. Published 2020.

[3] SHEFS. SHEFS, fruit and vegetables policy brief series. Policy brief 1: Is the UK’s supply of fruit and vegetables future proof? 2020

[4] National Food Strategy. National Food Strategy: Part One. 2020. P.27.

[5] National Food Strategy. National Food Strategy: Part One. 2020

[6] Food Foundation. Children’s Future Food Inquiry. 2019

[7] Bank of England Inflation calculator. https://www.bankofengland.co.uk/monetary-policy/inflation/inflation-calculator Accessed: 29th September 2020

[8] Food Foundation. The Broken Plate 2020 Report: the state of the nation’s food system. 2020.

[i] “Equivalent benefits” is a term drawn from the Department of Work and Pensions. It covers any of the legacy benefits which Universal Credit is replacing, i.e. working age Jobseeker’s Allowance (income-related), Employment and Support Allowance (income-related), Income Support, Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit and Housing Benefits