Date Published: 21 August 2006

'Healthy Start' will replace the UK Welfare Food Scheme

Health News from the United Kingdom (UK).

Local shopkeepers have been queuing up to get involved in the new Healthy Start scheme which began in Devon and Cornwall last year.

Healthy Start, which will replace the Welfare Food Scheme, offers vouchers to exchange for milk, fresh fruit and vegetables, and infant formula to pregnant women and children under the age of four in low income families. The vouchers can be used in a wide range of participating shops and pharmacies. Under the Welfare Food Scheme, tokens could only be exchanged for milk and infant formula but the new scheme offers much more flexibility and choice. Breastfeeding and non breastfeeding mothers will benefit equally from the scheme.

This replaces the Welfare Food Scheme which was introduced in Britain to combat food shortages during the Second World War. It offered milk and infant formula to low income families. Healthy Start will replace it across the UK from November 2006.

The new "Healthy Start" scheme is open to pregnant women (once they are ten weeks pregnant) and children under five years old in families on Income Support, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance and Child Tax Credit with an annual family income of below £13,910. It is also open to all pregnant women under 18 years of age. Pregnant women and children aged over one and under five will receive one voucher per week, worth £2.80, for each child/pregnancy. Children under one year old will receive two vouchers per child, worth a total of £5.60. If a baby is born early, they will receive the two vouchers until one year from the estimated date of delivery (EDD). The value of the vouchers will be adjusted periodically to ensure they continue to keep pace with the retail prices of milk, fruit and vegetables and infant formula.

Around 500 retailers signed up under the old Welfare Food Scheme to accept milk tokens. However, under the new scheme the number nearly doubled with around 1000 outlets signing up. Over 9,000 women and children in Devon and Cornwall now receive Healthy Start vouchers. Across the UK as a whole around 720,000 people receive Welfare Food Scheme milk tokens.

An evaluation of Phase 1 of the scheme in Devon and Cornwall showed that the scheme was implemented effectively for beneficiaries, health professionals and retailers.

Public Health Minister Caroline Flint said:

" I am very encouraged by the number of shopkeepers who have signed up to provide goods under the Healthy Start scheme, which gives mums-to-be and families greater opportunity to make healthier choices. It also shows the vital role that local shopkeepers can play in helping families in their local community to eat more healthily.

_ Poor diet can have a huge impact on future health. We want to encourage families to eat healthily from the outset and that includes during pregnancy. Healthy Start vouchers will give pregnant women and low income families greater choice and flexibility in what they can buy. This will give children the best possible start in life."

Dr Gabriel Scally, Director of Public Health at NHS South West, said:

" I am delighted at the success of Healthy Start in Devon and Cornwall and the valuable learning that has been gained. It is enormously important to have a healthy diet, but this can be difficult on a low income. Thanks to this scheme, more than half of those who received the vouchers said that they were now buying more fruit and vegetables than before. As this scheme is rolled out across the country I hope that its success continues to grow."

Local retailer, Tony Misson, of Riverford Home Delivery which delivers local, organic produce in West Cornwall, said:

" Our customers are delighted they can use their Healthy Start vouchers for this service. They can enjoy the best seasonal produce, and it also means children develop an interest in healthy eating and knowledge of where their food comes from. The redemption process is quick and simple with the funds being paid directly into our bank within a few days and the whole system is totally smooth and efficient."

Source(s): UK Department of Health

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