Introduced in 2006, Healthy Start is a little known government scheme to improve the health of low-income pregnant women and families with young children on benefits and tax credits. Take-up of the vouchers is low yet this important benefit can make a difference to families. We look at how councils can identify eligible households and how frontline organisations can let people know their entitlement, and encourage them to apply.

The Healthy Start programme works with women who are at least 10 weeks pregnant, and families who have a child under 4 and receive certain forms of income-related benefits. Depending on the age of the child in the household, those who qualify can receive one or two £3.10 vouchers per week to spend on milk, fruit and vegetables, and infant formula milk.

Policy in Practice works with local authorities and other organisations to maximise income for low-income households using data analytics and engagement tools. Our work has highlighted the low take-up of certain benefits, one of which is Healthy Start vouchers.

Lack of awareness sees take-up of Healthy Start vouchers declining

The initiative provides a great opportunity for health professionals and others working with pregnant women and families to offer encouragement, information and advice on issues such as healthy eating, breastfeeding and vitamins, yet it is not reaching as many households as it could.

In 2018, charities and health groups identified that only 64% of people eligible for Healthy Start were using it. This meant over 130,000 households were not accessing £28.6m of free fruit, vegetables and milk. Two years on, national take-up has declined to around 54%.

In a recent study, Croydon Council found that almost half of the households they contacted had not heard of Healthy Start vouchers before and 38% of those households were not aware that they were eligible to receive these.

Healthy Start vouchers are a small yet impactful way of relieving some of the financial pressures and improving the health of some of the most vulnerable people. Policy and Practice conducted an analysis of the potential savings Healthy Start could offer both families and local authorities.

Croydon Council shows the difference the Healthy Start vouchers can make

Using data provided by local authorities and take-up figures provided by the Healthy Start programme, we identified the monetary value that Healthy Start could contribute to help ease the financial constraints faced by low-income families.

Croydon Council has undertaken an awareness campaign and is working hard to increase voucher take-up. According to the combination of data provided, 58% of families in Croydon who are eligible are currently benefiting from the Healthy Start programme, boosting incomes by almost £10,500 a month.

Through the promotion of the programme they have achieved great results; 359 households contacted the council directly seeking assistance in signing up. They estimated that their take up campaign has increased income to these 359 households of around £1,358 a week, which equates to £70,500 for the year.

Croydon plans further take-up activity in the spring knowing that, with greater promotion, the Healthy Start programme could do much more. The remaining 42% of families who are eligible for Healthy Start vouchers in Croydon are currently losing out on support worth over £90,000. If Croydon Council reaches 100% take-up they would see the equivalent of £215,500 worth of milk, fruit, vegetables and infant formula milk distributed to the families who need it most.

Healthy Start vouchers help to create an income buffer for vulnerable families and provide children with the food they need. If families have a greater income buffer it is likely that they will need less assistance from their local authority.

Identify who’s eligible for Healthy Start vouchers to improve take-up

Use household-level data to inform proactive outreach campaigns

Some local authorities have demonstrated the value of data analytics in improving the circumstance of low-income families. Councils across the UK can unlock the insights from their own household level datasets via LIFT to identify families who are vulnerable and eligible for support, engage with them and track their progress over time. This allows councils to proactively boost benefit take-up, alleviate poverty and help to reduce homelessness.

Croydon Council has found a direct correlation between promoting the Healthy Start programme by engaging with those who are eligible and increasing take-up. Analysing their datasets via their LIFT allows them to identify and engage with those who are eligible. This can be achieved through relatively low-cost email campaigns and using the free promotional material that can be found on the Healthy Start website.

Councils who have LIFT can use the Benefit take-up screen to identify how many households in their area are eligible for Healthy Start vouchers. Subsequently, users can track the progress of their take-up campaign and the impact on the cohort’s financial resilience through the LIFT Track your residents screen.

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Use a benefits calculator that has eligibility built in

Policy in Practice is keen to help increase take-up. Frontline organisations such as Citizens Advice, housing associations and local authorities who have the Policy in Practice Better Off Calculator can use the calculator’s Information about your case function which flags up eligibility for the Healthy Start vouchers, amongst other potential supports available.

Eligibility for Healthy Start vouchers is calculated in Policy in Practice’s Better Off Calculator. Click the green button under Advice and support in the results tab

The take-up levels of Healthy Start can improve and the tools to proactively and reactively identify families who are eligible are readily available. Croydon Council has shown how to increase Healthy Start take-up and, with the use of a LIFT Dashboard and Better Off Calculator they can identify exactly who is eligible, design and implement proactive support, and then track changes over time.

What other benefits are underclaimed?

We know that £10 billion of benefits go unclaimed each year by people who are eligible for them but not receiving them. Some households aren’t claiming support that could be worth thousands of pounds each year to them.

DWP says that take-up may be affected by factors such as the attractiveness of the benefit, lack of awareness of the benefit or application procedure, lack of awareness of entitlement, the perceived stigma of receiving a benefit or other factors.

Join our webinar, The most underclaimed benefits and how to drive take-up, on Wednesday 26 February at 10:30 to hear more. We will be joined by guest speakers Nick Harvey and Jane Worrell, Folkestone and Hythe Council, who will share the work they’ve done to boost take-up of pension credit in their area. For more details and to register click here.

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