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Half the children on poverty line are missing out on 'healthy start' fresh food vouchers

PUBLISHED: 07:00 14 June 2019

Nearly half low income families missing out on vouchers for fresh food. Picture: Mike Brooke

Nearly half low income families missing out on vouchers for fresh food. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

Almost half the women and children on the poverty line in the East End are missing out on free fruit, vegetables, babyfood and milk, shock figures show.

Mayor John Biggs... Mayor John Biggs... "Every child deserves a healthy start in life." Picture: Rehan Jamil

Now Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs has joined calls from charities and health groups warning that "poor promotion" of the national Healthy Start voucher scheme means those who need it most aren't aware it's available.

An open letter has been sent to the Health Secretary warning that 130,000 families up and down the country are missing out on £28.6m of vouchers.

The letter calls on the unclaimed money from last year to be used for an awareness campaign.

"Every child deserves a healthy start in life," the mayor said. "But families are missing out on the voucher scheme which can really make a difference.

"Public services have been cut to the bone, but people in need are left in the dark about help they're entitled to where lifelines exist like the voucher scheme."

Fresh fish stall in Whitechapel Market... some families are missing out. Picture: Mike BrookeFresh fish stall in Whitechapel Market... some families are missing out. Picture: Mike Brooke

He is calling on the government to work with the local authority to "help spread the word" about the scheme to make sure families get the benefits.

Statistics for Tower Hamlets from the Trussell Trust show that only 55 per cent of those eligible actually claimed their vouchers last year.

The number of times Trussell Trust food banks have been used by families in need has risen from 41,000 in 2010 to well over a-million today, the charity points out.

Deputy Mayor Rachel Blake, whose responsibilities include tackling East End poverty, said: "It's disappointing to hear that so few of those eligible are actually claiming their vouchers. Families are really struggling with Universal Credit and cuts to other benefits and services.

"These vouchers can make a huge difference to tackling poverty."

Free meals for all primary school pupils are kept on by Tower Hamlets Council. Picture: Rehan JamilFree meals for all primary school pupils are kept on by Tower Hamlets Council. Picture: Rehan Jamil

The council has introduced a 'tackling poverty' fund to soften the blow caused by Universal Credit and the cuts to services.

But free school meals for primary school pupils are being kept as well as a 100pc council tax reduction scheme.

The food bank network distributed 1.6 million 'three-day emergency' supplies to those in crisis in the 12 months to March 31, a fifth more than the previous 12 months, with half-a-million going to children.

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