This first draft of this Healthy Start Alliance manifesto is the starting point for discussions about what the Healthy Start Alliance will work towards. Our work will change and grow as we develop as an Alliance.
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- Policy-makers should fully acknowledge the contribution of good nutrition – throughout the lifespan, but particularly from pre-conception into the early years – to promoting health, reducing health inequalities, and enabling every child to reach their full potential.
- All organisations concerned with health and well-being in pregnancy and the early years, and with public health, food policy and food poverty, should engage with and recognise their role in supporting Healthy Start.
- The concept of welfare food support, and ring-fenced funding for foods for low-income and teenage women in pregnancy and low-income families with young children, should be explicitly maintained in any benefit planning reviews, and eligibility criteria should not be negatively impacted by the introduction of Universal Credit.
- The eligibility criteria should be reviewed and discussions held as to how other pregnant women and families with young children in financial difficulty could be brought into the scheme, for example those seeking asylum.
- The cost of a healthy diet in pregnancy and for low-income women should be taken into account when reviewing the value of Healthy Start food vouchers. The benefit of improving nutrition during pregnancy and in the early years, in terms of health, well-being and life chances should be fully evaluated to calculate what the value of Healthy Start vouchers should be. A substantial increase on the current voucher value is likely to be a cost-effective public health measure.
- There should be an open debate about how breastfeeding can be better promoted and supported among Healthy Start beneficiaries. All opportunities and contacts should be used to enable lower-income women both to access support in infant feeding, and to find out more about good nutrition across the lifespan and for the whole family.
- There should be a review of which food items can be bought with Healthy Start food vouchers. Foods such as seeds and pulses should be considered for inclusion.
- The original policy plan that Healthy Start enables health professionals to support and interact with families should be re-instated. Sufficient training of health professionals and contact time should be allowed for these interactions to be effective.
- More practical advice and practical hands-on support should be made available to Healthy Start beneficiaries to ensure they get the most out of the Healthy Start scheme and are enabled to use their food vouchers to benefit both themselves, their families and their local communities.
- Public health at a local authority level should work with local food producers, farmers, markets and food co-ops to see how those food outlets can engage with Healthy Start beneficiaries and promote the use of Healthy Start food vouchers in their community.
- Healthy Start vitamins should become universally available to all pregnant women and young children up to the age of 5 years if it proves cost-effective to do so when examined by NICE. The vitamins should be re-named (for example Maternal and child vitamins) to ensure that this free provision is not confused with the food-voucher element of the Healthy Start scheme.