Thousands of parents missing out on food vouchers Marcus Rashford campaigned for

Date published: 17 June 2021

Thousands of parents and parents-to-be in Greater Manchester are missing out on vouchers which Marcus Rashford successfully lobbied the government to expand.

More than £60,000 worth of Healthy Start vouchers for fresh fruit and vegetables are not claimed by those eligible in the city-region every week.

The NHS scheme helps parents and parents-to-be with up to two vouchers a week, each worth £4.25, starting from the tenth week of pregnancy until their children turn four.

Parents with low incomes receiving child tax credit or other benefits can buy milk, infant formula, fruit and vegetables with the vouchers and get free Healthy Start vitamins.

Manchester United star Marcus Rashford called for an increase in the value of these vouchers, which were worth £3.10 until April, in a petition to parliament.

The 23-year-old footballer, who also campaigned to extend free school meals for disadvantaged children during the school holidays, received an MBE in recognition of his services to vulnerable children during the pandemic.

However, in April, when the value of Healthy Start vouchers increased, more than 14,000 eligible parents across Greater Manchester did not claim one.

Manchester has the highest uptake across the city-region, according to the latest data available, with 63% of those eligible signed up to the scheme.

Rochdale, Bolton, Salford and Tameside also had an uptake above 60% in the four weeks up to 25 April.

Wigan had the lowest uptake with just 54% of eligible parents claiming the vouchers, putting the borough below the North West and England averages.

Although the vouchers are not issued or managed by Rochdale Council, it does promote the Healthy Start vouchers on social media for local parents and parents-to-be, whilst its early years workers also inform families about them so they can apply.

Local GPs, health visitors and midwives also signpost those who are eligible to apply for the vouchers.

Councillor Rachel Massey, cabinet member for children’s services and education, said: “We regularly promote these vouchers and our staff who work with families or expectant mothers do signpost them to applying for them.

“If you’re eligible then please take them up, they can be a real help and we fully support anything that helps our families provide healthy options for children.”

In November, the government announced a support package to ‘help families through the winter and beyond’ following the campaign by Marcus Rashford.

The Department of Health and Social Care removed the requirement for a signature from a health professional on the Healthy Start application form and extended the validity period of vouchers to make it easier for families to apply for and use the scheme during the pandemic.

In the announcement, a spokesperson for the Department for Education said this supported people, such as pregnant women who are self-isolating, to apply for the scheme as well as reducing pressure on healthcare professionals.

However, parents still have to print off a form, fill it out and post it to apply.

The Healthy Start scheme has been contacted for comment.

The government has been contacted for comment.

If you think you may be eligible for Healthy Start vouchers, you can check here:

Joseph Timan, Local Democracy Reporter

Additional reporting: Rochdale Online

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