Healthy Start vouchers could help families facing Universal Credit cut

The East of England Co-op has given more money to food banks amid fears that food poverty will rise

The East of England Co-op will top up the Healthy Start vouchers to £5 per week - Credit: Archant

More than 2,400 families in Suffolk who are struggling to feed their children could be taking advantage of Healthy Start vouchers.

Those hit by the Universal Credit cut are being urged to take up the vouchers, giving them £4.25 per week to buy fresh fruit, vegetables and formula milk.

In January only 47% of eligible families in the county were claiming the vouchers, and by July that figure had risen to 56% but it means more than 2,400 households are still missing out on the benefit.

Education campaigner Jack Abbott, former Labour group spokesman for children’s services at Suffolk County Council who now lobbies on education issues in Suffolk, has urged eligible mums and families who have been hit by the removal of the £20 extra Universal Credit uplift to make the most of the scheme.

“In a country which has more foodbanks than McDonald’s, it is critical that the uptake of existing support schemes is increased,” Mr Abbott said.

He said that local authorities and other public bodies have not been publicising the vouchers enough, and highlighted that take-up had fallen from the 69% in the East of England back in 2015.

The scheme is one which has been highlighted by Manchester United and England football star Marcus Rashford in his campaigning for support for low income families.

Mr Abbott said: “With thousands of families still missing out on additional support, there is much work still to be done. Yet it shows that, through highlighting the scheme in the local press, on social media, and in schools, nurseries and other similar settings, you can increase awareness and uptake.”

Some retailers have agreed to up the value of the vouchers – Waitrose will top up the vouchers with an additional £1.50 and the East of England Co-op up to £5.

Those who can qualify for the vouchers are those under 18 and pregnant, and those who are at least 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under the age of four who are on certain benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support and Universal Credit where income is less than £408 per month, among others.

To find out more about the qualifying criteria and where the vouchers can be used, see here.