The Healthy Start scheme is available in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to help those receiving certain income related benefits who are more than 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under four to buy healthy food and milk.

In 2020 Part One of the National Food Strategy (PDF) recommended that Healthy Start vouchers should be increased to £4.25 a week, and expanded to include every pregnant woman and to all households with children under four where a parent or guardian is in receipt of Universal Credit or equivalent benefits.

In response, the Government increased the value of Healthy Start vouchers from £3.10 to £4.25 per week (from April 2021). The value of Healthy Start support had been increased to £3.10 in 2009, from the original value of £2.80 when first introduced in 2006. Healthy Start replaced the longstanding Welfare Food Scheme (which was brought in during the Second World War to help combat food shortages).

Families on the scheme currently receive:

  • £4.25 per week for each child between one and four years old
  • £4.25 per week for each week of a pregnancy (from the 10th week of pregnancy)
  • £8.50 per week for each child aged up to one year old (equivalent to two vouchers).

Like the Welfare Food Scheme before it, Healthy Start provides people who qualify with help to buy milk and infant formula, while it extended help to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. Free vitamin supplements are also an important part of the scheme.

Calls to increase the value of Healthy Start payments

In December 2022, over 100 organisations, including charities, Royal Colleges, Directors of Public Health, and food partnerships, wrote to the Ministers, and the Chief Executive of NHS Business Services Authority, calling for the value of Healthy Start payments to rise in line with rising food prices.

If Healthy Start payments had increased in line with food price inflation between April 2006 and March 2023, the voucher would now be worth around £5.10 (85p more than the current rate of £4.25). If increased by overall price inflation the voucher would be worth around £4.55, 30p more.[1]

These organisations also called for eligibility for the scheme to be expanded and for issues with access to be resolved (see Healthy Start coalition letter (PDF)).

The Local Government Association has also called on the Government to:

  • Extend Healthy Start to children up to the age of five, to close the current gap in support between healthy start and free school meals. 
  • Shift from an “opt in” to an “opt out” registration system through an automated process, to help remove any barriers families face when applying online. 
  • Invest in an awareness raising campaign to promote uptake of the vouchers amongst eligible families, funded by underspend from the scheme.

Two Private Members Bills have also proposed measures for an “opt in” system, to ensure that families eligible for the Healthy Start scheme are registered to receive it (the Healthy Start Scheme (Take-Up) Bill 2022-23 had its first reading in November 2022; a similar Ten-Minute Rule Bill is scheduled for 14 June 2022).

Healthy Start legislation

In 2003 the Government passed primary legislation, the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Act 2003 (section 185), to enable the new Healthy Start scheme to be set up under regulations. Subsequent regulations were passed to implement scheme, including the Healthy Start Scheme and Welfare Food (Amendment) Regulations SI 2005/3262 and the Healthy Start Scheme and Welfare Food (Amendment) Regulations SI 2006/589. In particular, the 2005 Regulations set out the rules governing the Healthy Start scheme.

Subsequent regulations have been made, uprating the value of vouchers, and making other changes. Since 2010, some amending regulations relate the rules around eligibility, for example the Healthy Start Scheme and Welfare Food (Amendment) Regulations 2016 SI 2016/985 and the Healthy Start Scheme and Welfare Food (Amendment) (England and Wales) Regulations 2019 SI 2019/909 granted eligibility to Healthy Start benefits to certain Universal Credit and Pension Credit claimants.

Other regulations clarify or extend the types of food included in the scheme. For example, The Healthy Start Scheme and Welfare Food (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2020 SI 2020/267 expanded the foods that can be purchased through the scheme to include pulses and canned fruit and vegetables, but not those to which fat, salt, sugar or flavouring have been added.

The NHS website notes that the Healthy Start paper voucher scheme came to an end in 2022, replaced with a digital card-based scheme: The new Healthy Start Scheme – Get help to buy food and milk (Healthy Start)

Commons Library Briefing papers

Rising cost of living in the UK (April 2023)

Poverty in the UK: statistics (section 2) (April 2023)

Cost of Living Payments: Overview and FAQs (January 2023)

Briefing for Westminster Hall debate on National Food Strategy and public health (November 2021)

Parliamentary questions

Healthy Start Scheme 03 May 2023 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 183103

Healthy Start Scheme: Food Poverty 03 May 2023 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 182592

Healthy Start Scheme 25 Apr 2023 | Written questions | Answered | House of Lords | HL7207

Healthy Start Scheme: Costs 30 Mar 2023 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 174525

Healthy Start Scheme 21 March 2023 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 167129

Healthy Start Scheme 21 Mar 2023 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 167130

[1] HCLibrary calculations using ONS Consumer Price Inflation tables, Table 57 to adjust Healthy Start April 2006 voucher value of £2.80. Figures rounded to the nearest 5p.

Related posts