This research project examined the experiences of families using the government's Healthy Start vouchers in 13 neighbourhoods in England. The Government’s Healthy Start scheme enables families living on low incomes to receive free vouchers every week which they can swap for milk, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and infant formula milk. Families on the scheme are also entitled to free vitamins. The research was commissioned by the Department of Health to help them better understand how the scheme is working and to highlight any areas where improvements may be possible.
Parents, health and children’s professionals, and retailers were interviewed, and findings are now available. The food vouchers were valued highly by everyone we spoke to, and were successfully providing a nutritional safety net for some families. Some parents spoke about the vouchers enabling them to protect spending on fruit and vegetables, others mentioned times when the vouchers were the only guarantee there would be some food available. Frontline professionals (Health visitor, midwives, and Children’s Centre staff) were all working to support families to access the scheme, but were not always emphasising the potential health benefits. Healthy Start vitamins were seldom reaching families,