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Healthy Start: a new Welfare Food Scheme

  • Last modified date:
    23 January 2008
healthy start logo

The new Healthy Start scheme will help families from low income and disadvantaged households, in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, by giving vouchers for free milk and fresh fruit and vegetables to children and mums-to-be. The scheme also encourages earlier and closer contact with health professionals who can give advice on pregnancy, breastfeeding and healthy eating.

Healthy Start is the culmination of several years of work to reform the Welfare Food Scheme, which was first brought in during the Second World War to help combat food shortages.  It builds on recommendations for change made by the Committee on the Medical Aspects of Food And Nutrition Policy (COMA) - following a review carried out in 1999, as well as feedback received during 2 public consultation exercises and extensive discussions with representatives of the health professions, retailers, and organisations working with disadvantaged women and families.

Like the Welfare Food Scheme, Healthy Start will provide people who qualify with vouchers to buy milk and infant formula.  However, the new scheme will provide greater flexibility, also allowing parents to buy fresh fruit and vegetables.  Free vitamin supplements will remain an important part of the new scheme, with new Healthy Start branded products to be produced and made available through the NHS. 

The new vouchers will be worth £2.80 each. Qualifying pregnant women and children over one and under four will get one voucher every week, and children under one year old will get two vouchers a week. Vouchers can be spent with participating retailers - including small businesses and milkmen as well as larger supermarkets and chemists. Health professionals working with pregnant women and families with young children will have an important role in the scheme, providing them with advice and information on healthy eating and breastfeeding and supporting their applications for Healthy Start.

Evaluation of the scheme in Devon and Cornwall, where it has been running since 28 November 2005, showed that the scheme had been successfully implemented.  Many families surveyed welcomed the new flexibility that Healthy Start vouchers offer and retailers found the process of registration and claiming payment to be simple and straightforward.  Health professionals understood how the scheme worked and were able to advise their clients appropriately.

The evaluation also showed that retailers were eager to get involved.  With the number of shops and supermarkets already more than for the Welfare Food Scheme and increasing daily, Healthy Start will be even more convenient for those who receive the vouchers, as well as offering more choice.

The summary documents for the evaluations of the systems, processes and training and of the communications for Healthy Start Phase 1 are available to download below.

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