Thousands of eligible Suffolk families who are missing out on Healthy Start vouchers urged to take advantage of programme
Struggling families hit by the Universal Credit cut are being urged to take up weekly Healthy Start vouchers to buy fresh groceries, as latest data reveals more than 2,000 eligible Suffolk families are not using them.
Healthy Start vouchers worth £4.25 per week can be used to buy fresh fruit and vegetables and formula milk, with some retailers topping up the vouchers to the value of £5 per week.
In January, data indicated that only 47 per cent of eligible families were taking advantage of the programme in Suffolk.
That number has increased to 56 per cent as of July, but more than 2,400 eligible families in the county are still not using them.
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.
"Healthy Start is one such scheme to help buy basic foods like milk or fruit. You can qualify for Healthy Start vouchers if you are pregnant or have a child under four and are on certain benefits, or if you are under 18."
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 per cent 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 added: "At the end of July, the uptake rate of the vouchers stood at 55 per cent in the East of England.
"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, visit www.healthystart.nhs.uk.