New figures show that over half of eligible families not using food vouchers

New figures show that over half of eligible families not using food vouchers

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The most vulnerable families in London are missing out on help with food costs, with almost half of eligible households not using Government vouchers.

The Government’s Healthy Start programme provides weekly coupons to low-income pregnant mothers or families with children under five, to help buy healthy food.

But 47 percent of eligible families in London have not registered for the scheme.

In Sutton, the worst affected borough, just 35 percent of eligible households are receiving vouchers. Croydon, Hounslow and the City of London are also among the worst impacted.

In Camden, two thirds of families are accessing support – and there are similarly high uptake rates in Islington, Westminster and Hackney.

But even the best performing boroughs are falling well short of the Mayor’s 80 percent uptake target – meaning low-income families are going without the help they need. 

One in five Londoners struggles to afford enough food, while one in six parents have children living in food poverty, according to Mayoral data.

Uptake on the voucher scheme has fallen nationally, with Government spending on the project halving between 2011 and 2018.

The scheme has been administered by private contractor Serco since 2014 – by 2017, uptake had fallen from 76 percent to 67 percent nationally. Serco’s contract was renewed the same year.

Labour’s City Hall food spokesperson, Fiona Twycross, said Sadiq Khan was prioritising food poverty in the capital, but needed more support from Westminster.

She said: “The Government have shirked their responsibility when it comes to promoting the scheme, draining it of the investment it needs and renewing their contract with Serco despite their clear failure to deliver.

Ms Twycross also criticised the failure to update the voucher’s value since 2009, despite inflation. Each coupon is worth £3.10, with parents receiving one or two vouchers per child each week.

She said: “This is a vital programme that ensures some of the most vulnerable children have access to basic nutrition, but it is staggering that the Government have been unable to update the value of the voucher over the last decade to keep up with the burgeoning costs of living.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Midwives, health visitors and local authorities all promote Healthy Start vouchers, and the scheme is promoted through public information campaigns. 

“We are now developing a digital scheme to modernise the system, making it easier for eligible people to apply.”

A Serco spokesperson said: “We are responsible for assessing applications and issuing vouchers but have no responsibility for the scheme’s promotion or marketing.”

By LDRS Reporter Jessie Matthewson

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