New data analysis shows uptake for the Healthy Start scheme is extremely low in nearly all constituencies across England. Only two constituencies have reached the 75% uptake target set by Government (which are Hartlepool (79.2%) and Great Grimsby (75%)). Uptake levels are low due to many families being unaware of the scheme or having dropped off the scheme when it was digitised last year due to problems with the application process.
New figures from The Food Foundation and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) come as MPs prepare to debate a Bill tabled for today by Emma Lewell-Buck MP calling on the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to solve the issue of low uptake of the Healthy Start by introducing automatic registration. The Bill, which has received cross-Party support, proposes that eligible families are auto-enrolled in the scheme (with an opt-out provided where preferred) to ensure that all eligible children and pregnant women can easily access the scheme.
LOW UPTAKE RATES IN ENGLAND
The five MPs and constituencies with lowest Healthy Start uptake rates in England are:
(in order of lowest)
Hendon, Dr Matthew Offord MP, Conservative
Value missed out per month: £12,016
Finchley and Golders Green, Mike Freer MP, Conservative
Value missed out per month: £11,351
Chipping Barnet, Theresa Villiers MP, Conservative
Value missed out per month: £10,391
Westmorland and Lonsdale, Tim Farron MP, Liberal Democrats
Value missed out per month: £2,655
Ilford South, Sam Tarry MP, Labour
Value missed out per month: £14,092
Cabinet and shadow-cabinet MPs with low Healthy Start uptake rates include (ordered by ranking):
Ilford North, Wes Streeting MP, Labour, Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care
Value missed out per month: £10,720
Uptake ranking out of 533 constituencies: 528
South West Surrey, Jeremy Hunt MP, Conservative, Chancellor of the Exchequer
Value missed out per month: £4,024
Uptake ranking out of 533 constituencies: 527
Surrey Heath, Michael Gove MP, Conservative, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
Value missed out per month: £4,551
Uptake ranking out of 533 constituencies: 500
Richmond (Yorkshire), Rishi Sunak MP, Conservative, Prime Minister
Value missed out per month: £4,165
Uptake ranking out of all 533 constituencies: 465
Central Devon, Mel Stride MP, Conservative, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
Value missed out per month: £4,491
Uptake ranking out of 533 constituencies: 457
EXAMPLES OF CONSTITUENCIES WITH HIGH UPTAKE AND GOOD PRACTICE
Only two constituencies have achieved uptake of 75% or over, which is the national target set by the Government for March 2023. They are:
Hartlepool, Jill Mortimer MP, Conservative
Value missed per month: £6,446
|Uptake rank out of 533 Constituencies: 1
Great Grimsby, Lia Nici MP, Conservative
Uptake rate: 75.0%
Value missed: £1492
Uptake rank out of 533
Other constituencies have made concerted efforts to tackle low uptake. Blackpool, for example, has increased uptake rates by 10% in a year by designing and implementing targeted strategies to improve access to the scheme:
Blackpool North and Cleveleys, Paul Maynard MP, Conservative
Uptake ranking out of 533 constituencies: 304
Blackpool South, Scott Benton MP, Conservative
Uptake ranking out of 533 constituencies: 22
ENGLAND FAR BEHIND COMPARED TO UPTAKE RATES SCOTLAND AND WALES
Uptake in England’s falls far behind that of Scotland’s equivalent scheme, Best Start Foods. Since 2021, Best Start Foods has been promoted as part of the Five Family Payment campaign – a promotional campaign focused on the package of support available to low-income families. High uptake has been achieved by promoting the package through television, radio and digital advertising and making it easier to apply – for example allowing applications to be made on a single form for all grant payments. In April, Best Start Foods was also increased in line with inflation by 10.1%.1 In 2023-24, all income thresholds for Best Start Foods will be removed, supporting an additional 20,000 people.
In Wales, where national rates are at 69.1%, a Healthy Start Network (made up of healthcare professionals across Wales) was established to improve promotion and uptake. The network has informed the development of a training course (available this summer) to increase knowledge of the scheme among all professionals who might work with eligible families.
SOLUTIONS TO THE PROBLEM: ACTION NEEDED FROM GOVERNMENT
At 27%, food insecurity rates are higher in households with children under the age of four than those with only school-age children or no children at all. The first years of life are critical for children’s growth and development, and it is imperative they receive nutritious food during this time to help them grow up healthy.
The Food Foundation, Sustain and organisations working across food security and early years health and nutrition in the UK are calling for the following actions from the government to increase uptake:
· Develop a robust strategy to tackle Healthy Start’s low uptake across England, Northern Ireland and Wales.
· Widen Healthy Start take-up through working towards automatic enrolment (with families able to opt-out of the scheme if they wish).
· Launch with immediate effect a comprehensive communications campaign to promote Healthy Start – as recommended in the National Food Strategy.
In addition, access to the Healthy Start scheme needs to be improved by:
· Increasing the Healthy Start allowance in line with food price inflation alongside other government benefits with the value reviewed every six months.
· Expand eligibility to all families on Universal Credit and equivalent benefits with children under five years old, as recommended in the National Food Strategy.
The Food Foundation is also calling on retailers to promote the Healthy Start Scheme to raise awareness among eligible customers as part of the Kid’s Food Guarantee.
Anna Taylor, Executive Director of The Food Foundation, said: “It’s wholly unacceptable that only two constituencies in all of England are managing to meet the Government’s own target for uptake. Clearly, the Government needs a much better strategy for ensuring this statutory scheme functions effectively, as the current approach just isn’t working. The consequences of this fall on hundreds of thousands of low-income families with newborns and very young children who are missing out on access to vital nutritious food. Although adequate promotion of the scheme is essential, we should be working towards auto-enrolling families who are known to be eligible for the scheme: it’s the obvious answer. As food prices soar, Government needs to stop sitting on its hands and act now.”
Mother, England, recipient of Healthy Start vouchers: “As a parent who didn’t know I was eligible, I missed out on two years plus of help from this scheme. It should be advertised more, and promotion should highlight that when your circumstances change you can reapply for Healthy Start: even if you weren’t eligible in the past, you may be now. If the scheme was automatic for parents it would benefit so many more with the little bit of extra help it does provide.”
Genevieve Hadida from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who analysed the data, said: “Presenting data at the Constituency level, rather than solely relying on Local Authority statistics, reveals the disparity in uptake rates of the Healthy Start Scheme that exists even within Local Authority Districts. We hope this new data will prompt decision-makers to better target their efforts and make the changes necessary to increase the uptake of this vital scheme in their Constituencies.”