MORE than 270,000 mums are missing out on weekly food vouchers worth £3.10 to help with the cost of fruit, vegetables and milk.
Official figures show the number of eligible Brits claiming their vouchers under the “Healthy Start” scheme has dropped from 73 per cent in April 2015 to 48 per cent in June 2020.
The support is available to mums who are at least 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under four and get income support or other benefits.
You also qualify if you are under 18 and pregnant, even if you don’t get any benefits.
First reported by The Mirror, the current take-up is at its lowest point in the last five years, and figures fell even before the coronavirus crisis hit.
In June this year, just 251,547 out of 523,627 eligible people received the vouchers, meaning 272,080 missed out, said charity Feeding Britain, which analysed the official figures.
That has risen from 201,099 people failing to receive the vouchers in January this year and from 135,829 in April 2015.
The scheme was launched in 2006 as a “nutritional safety net” to offer vouchers for milk, fruit, vegetables, infant formula and vitamin supplements.
Most eligible parents get one voucher per week, except those with children under one who get two vouchers per week.
But the value of the weekly £3.10 voucher hasn’t changed since 2009 despite rising food prices.
Feeding Britain claims that has deprived families of £77million – and if the vouchers had risen with inflation, they would now be worth £3.80.
Andrew Forsey, national director of Feeding Britain, said: “Healthy Start vouchers have the potential to become such an effective tool for a prime minister whose mission is to improve the nation’s diet.
“But hundreds of thousands of poorer children are missing out on their entitlement to millions of pounds’ worth of fruit and vegetables every year.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care told The Sun: “Healthy Start supports pregnant women and young children from lower income families to access free fruit, vegetables, milk and vitamins to support a healthy lifestyle.
“We are now developing a digital approach to modernise the Healthy Start system, making it easier for those eligible to apply for and access the vouchers.”
To apply for the scheme, you’ll need to visit the Healthy Start website.
You can either print off a blank form, or fill out an online application form and then print this off at the end.
You need to fill out Part A carefully in black ink using CAPITAL letters.
But you can leave Part B blank – it involves getting a health professional’s signature, but this requirement was removed in April.
Once you’ve signed and dated the form, put it in an envelope and send it to the below address. There’s no need for a stamp.
Freepost RRTR-SYAE-JKCR, Healthy Start Issuing Unit, PO Box 1067, Warrington WA55 1EG.
Once you get the vouchers, they can be spent in any shop that is registered to take part in the Healthy Start scheme within 12 weeks.
These include corner shops, supermarkets, market stalls, greengrocers, milk floats and pharmacies, but they’re not valid for online shopping.
You can use the postcode finder on the Healthy Start website to find your nearest retailer.
The vouchers can be used to buy plain cow’s milk and can be whole, semi-skimmed or skimmed.
It must also be pasteurised, sterilised, long-life or ultra-heat treated (UHT).
They’re also valid for packs of plain fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables, but you can’t spend them on fruit or veggies with added ingredients such as fat, salt, sugar or flavourings – including oven chips and battered onion rings.
The vouchers are also valid on infant formula milk that is based on cow’s milk and says on the packaging that it can be used from birth.
A few years ago, Aldi stopped a mum from using the vouchers to buy baby milk formula after a mix-up.
Meanwhile, pregnant mums can get a £500 grant to help with cost of new baby – we explain how to apply.
A few weeks ago, Boris Johnson ordered GPs to tell overweight patients that they are fat in new anti-obesity drive.