Recent estimates show that over eight million people in Britain live in food poverty. In other words, they struggle to get enough to eat on a daily basis. The problem is often compounded by a diet of easy access poor-quality junk food rather than healthy fresh produce.

To address this issue in families with young children the NHS introduced the Healthy Start Scheme. Pregnant mothers and families with children under four years old who are receiving benefits such as Universal Credit can claim vouchers to redeem for cow’s milk, fruit and vegetables. In addition, mothers and their children can receive healthy vitamin tablets.

However, figures published this month show many families in Gloucestershire are missing out on this vital support, and that one of our local authorities is amongst the worst in the country for take up. Across Gloucestershire 31% of families who are entitled the Healthy Start food are not registered to receive any support. Take up is highest in Cheltenham with 28% of families not registered. Shockingly in the Cotswolds District a staggering 42% of the poorest families who are entitled to this support are not receiving anything.

How can we ensure that these needy families receive the healthy food and vitamins they deserve?

Key are NHS professionals themselves despite government cuts to community health services. Marcus Rashford, footballer and food poverty campaigner, has written to them saying, “On a daily basis, healthcare professionals see first-hand the impact that hunger and poor diets have on, not only physical, but mental health and where that can lead. You are for many communities a lifeline. I would very much appreciate it if you would consider collaborating with us on communicating and educating people about the scheme when possible”

Equally important are local authorities such as Gloucestershire County Council in their contact with young families by identifying eligible claimants and helping them to apply for the support.

Let’s hope that such a campaign can make a difference to those deserving families in Gloucestershire who are currently missing out.

Malcolm Bride,

Cheltenham Activist Network

this article appeared in the Gloucestershire Echo on Thursday August 26th

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