Promoting, protecting and advocating for the Healthy Start scheme in the UK

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Welcome to our November 2015 newsletter

This month we report on the launch of the Sustain ‘Beyond the Food Bank’ project looking at indicators of food poverty in London and the Fabian Society report ‘Hungry for Change’; highlight those areas of the country where Healthy Start vitamins are currently offered free of charge to some, or all, pregnant women, infants and young children and introduce a new toolkit for food bank supporters and a new resource with recipe ideas for babies in the first year of life. We continue to request information on the future of Healthy Start from Government Departments and would like feedback on a suggested change to the scheme which we would like to add to our manifesto.


If you want to get in touch, please email:

Beyond the Food Bank

We aim to produce regular newsletters which provide up-to-date information about Healthy Start and highlight good practice. We hope subscribers will contribute to our advocacy work with questions or relevant links. To receive newsletters from Healthy Start Alliance  please sign up here.


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This report launched on October 21st by the charity Sustain, with partners including the Healthy Start Alliance, provides a first profile of how London Boroughs are supporting vulnerable families and individuals to access food.

Previous newsletters:


The report focuses on initiatives that help put more money in the pockets of those in need (healthy start vouchers, breastfeeding, living wage, free school meals, along with breakfast clubs and holiday meal provision), and those that help provide access to affordable, healthy food (improving physical access and supporting meals on wheels).The report exposes significant gaps in the safety net, which contribute to high rates of food poverty among vulnerable Londoners.


The report highlights that Healthy Start can increase young families’ food budgets by 14-25%, but currently more than 1 in 4 eligible mothers and children are not receiving these vouchers. Practical recommendations are made to improve awareness of the scheme, and support families in their applications.


The report can be accessed on the Sustain website


Following on from this report we will continue to work with Sustain to find out more about how we can support London Boroughs to improve access to the scheme for eligible families and to encourage the use of the food vouchers in local shops and markets to improve the fruit and vegetable intake of eligible families.


Hungry for Change

The final report of the year long Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty sets out how a fairer food system can be built that works better for people on low incomes.

Drawing on public hearings, expert testimony and the insights of people with experience of managing poverty, the Commission has uncovered a crisis of food access for many households in the UK. There are multiple cases of parents – usually mothers – going hungry to feed their children or having to prioritise calories over nutrients to afford their weekly food shop.


Many people are feeling a deep sense of anxiety from the struggle to manage serious squeezes in household budgets that arises from the cost of living rising faster than income. The report highlights the importance of Healthy Start to support vulnerable families and we hope that the recommendation from the Commission that there should be a new cross-departmental minister with responsibility for eliminating household food insecurity in the UK could also provide a champion for the welfare food scheme that is currently missing.


Click here to access this report


Information for Food Banks:

Supporting pregnant women and families with infants

This resource for Baby Feeding Law Group provides support for volunteers in food banks who may see pregnant women and families with infants and signposts to key organisations and schemes such as Healthy Start for further support.


Click here to access resource

Eating well: the first year

A guide to introducing solids and eating well up to baby's first birthday

This comprehensive full-colour resource offers practical support on introducing solid food to infants at about 6 months of age, and progressing through a range of tastes and textures with simple recipes and portion size ideas. The resource also offers support on how to help families with introducing solids cost effectively, and provides a lot of opportunities to use fruit, vegetables and milk that can be purchased with Healthy Start vouchers in meals that the whole family can enjoy.

EW_FirstYear Information_foodbanks_toolkit
  • Barts Health NHS Trust (Universal)

  • Early Start Community Nutrition Team, Barts Health NHS Trust (Part Universal - women)

  • Camden and Islington Public Health (Universal)

  • Central London Community Healthcare (Universal) – Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham

  • City of London (Universal)

  • Greenwich Council (Part Universal – women)

  • Hackney Council (Universal)

  • Haringey Council (Universal)

  • Islington (Universal)

  • Lambeth (universal)

  • Lewisham Council (Universal)

  • London Borough of Waltham Forest (One bottle universally provided for all mothers at antenatal booking)

  • Southwark (Universal)

  • Tower Hamlets (Universal)

Where are Healthy Start vitamins currently universally free?

We have been compiling a list of all those areas offering free Healthy Start vitamins, either universally or part-universally. The current list is below:


  • Ayrshire (part Universal, women in pregnancy only)

  • Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council – Public Health (Part Universal all pregnant women two months free supply at booking, all babies 7-9 months free supply)

  • Birmingham City Council (Universal distribution for pregnant women and children under the age of 4)

  • Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust (Universal)

  • Bradford (Universal)

  • Dudley Council (Part Universal- All pregnant women get two lots of tablets at their 12 week scan  (and at their 20 week scan)

  • Fife (Universal)

  • Forth Valley (Universal)

  • Halton, Runcorn

  • Herefordshire (Universal)

  • Kirklees Council (Universal)

  • Knowsley Council (Universal distribution for pregnant women and children aged up to 4 years)

  • Liverpool City Council (Universal)

  • Middlesbrough Council (Universal All pregnant women and children under 5 years of age)

  • Salford City Council (Universal)

  • Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council (Part Universal all pregnant and breastfeeding mothers)

  • Southampton (Universal)

  • Telford and Wrekin CCG (Universal)

  • Yorkshire Children's Centres (Universal)

Elsewhere in the UK

Do you have free vitamins in your area but are not on this list, or is the provision we have indicated wrong? Please let us know so we can keep an up to date record:

The 2015 data on Healthy Start voucher take up suggests that this has dropped to 74% of eligible claimants, and this is reflected in the drop in spend for this benefit. We are looking for stories about people who have found difficulty in obtaining Healthy Start vouchers despite their eligibility.

A suggestion for making the scheme more accessible:

Why has take-up of Healthy Start dropped?

we-all-have-stories-to-tell No-Cell-Phones

We hope that we can look again at journey mapping the Healthy Start experience so we can talk to the Department of Health about opening discussions with DWP on some areas of potential difficulty. If you have heard from people who have had difficulty accessing Healthy Start – let us know:

Currently women who were eligible for Healthy Start in pregnancy must call a helpline number to confirm they have given birth. We believe this step is not needed. The phone number may also not be free on some mobile networks which may create difficulties for lower income women.

Luckily most pregnancies result in a positive (and very happy) outcome: in the few and very sad cases where this is not so, those young or low income women still need support around eating better, not least as they may enter another pregnancy. The barrier that the phone call presents seems disproportionate to the number of pregnancies that may sadly not result in an infant in the family, and we would like to suggest that this step be reconsidered. If you have any thoughts or comments on this please send them to

Do you have a story to tell?