Baby and mother win right to access Healthy Start food scheme

Thousands of babies left out due to parents’ immigration status will now be able to benefit from scheme

A one-year-old baby and her mother have won a high court challenge granting her the right to access a healthy food and vitamins scheme from which she was previously barred. Thousands of babies and toddlers similarly denied access to the scheme will now be able to benefit from it.

Healthy Start aims to reduce child poverty and health inequalities by providing free vitamins, dietary advice and weekly vouchers to buy nutritious food or infant formula to low-income families with pregnant women and children up to the age of four. It is intended to benefit those in the “greatest need”.

However, the eligibility criteria excluded some of the UK’s poorest children from migrant backgrounds because their families are unable to claim mainstream benefits, which is the trigger for entitlement to this scheme. As a consequence, babies and toddlers from the most financially deprived households were going without the food and vitamins needed for a healthy start in life.

Olivia Halse of MG & Co Solicitors, who was involved in the case, said: “This is a great outcome for some of the most disadvantaged children in our society who should have never been excluded from accessing this essential support in the first place. We hope this extension will go some way toward tackling health inequalities and child food poverty in the UK and help provide these children with a healthy start in life.”

The claim was brought by the one-year-old identified only as child “A”, a British citizen, and her mother. Her mother has the right to live and work in the UK but was not allowed to claim welfare benefits including from the Healthy Start scheme. The household income is almost 40% less than that of families claiming welfare benefits.

Halse brought a judicial review against the health secretary, Matt Hancock, arguing that the policy was indirectly discriminatory against children and mothers from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, breached their human rights and was inconsistent with the intended purpose of the scheme.

The case was due to be heard in the high court at the end of last month. However, Hancock conceded, agreeing to extend the eligibility criteria and to hold a consultation. As a result, all British children under the age of four, whose parents would meet the financial criteria to claim welfare benefits but are unable to do so as a result of their immigration status, will now be entitled to support provided under the Healthy Start scheme. The regulations will be amended and a consultation reviewing the broadening of the scheme will take place later this year.

In the meantime, Hancock has agreed to implement a process by which families in this position will be able to access support by way of an ex gratia benefit.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “This government is committed to making sure every child gets the best possible start in life. Our Healthy Start Scheme supports pregnant women and families on lower incomes to make healthier food choices and in April we increased the value of Healthy Start vouchers from £3.10 to £4.25 to help more families adopt a healthy diet.

“The No Recourse to Public Funds policy spans across government and appropriate consultation is needed prior to legislative changes. We will consult ahead of any amendments.”


Diane Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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