In an open letter in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Marcus Rashford has appealed to healthcare professionals to help direct eligible families to the government’s healthy start scheme.
The scheme supports parents who are pregnant or have children under the age of four to buy milk and healthy food such as fruit and vegetables. This year healthy start vouchers have increased in value from £3.10 to £4.25 per week in England and Wales.
In Scotland, there is an equivalent Best Start Foods scheme.
In his letter, Rashford points out that plans to digitise applications for the Healthy Start Scheme could mean that communities like the one he grew up in, where many people don’t have easy internet access, will get left behind.
At the moment, 40% of people who are eligible for Healthy Start Vouchers nationally are still not signed up for the scheme. Rashford is certain that many families in the UK are unfairly missing out on this vital support because they are unaware of it's existence.
Healthcare professionals can help because they have direct contact with parents and children on a daily basis, so can encourage them to sign up. Rashford’s plea is for those who work in healthcare to signpost families facing food insecurity to the services available to them, and help tackle child food poverty.
The scheme itself has been proven to increase uptake of fruit and vegetables, and therefore boost nutrition, without increasing household spend on ultra-processed foods (read the Soil Association Report) with little nutritional value.
You can read Marcus Rashford’s full letter to healthcare professionals here.
Marcus Rashford is a football player for Manchester United and for England, and a child food poverty campaigner. He spearheaded the summer 2020 #EndChildFoodPoverty campaign, and formed the Child Food Poverty Taskforce, of which Soil Association Food for Life is a contributing member.
Not sure if you're eligible? See if you can benefit from healthy start vouchers.