Healthy Start payments need to increase by 20% to compensate for increases in the cost of food, councils have said.
The scheme, which helps pregnant women or families with children under the age of four with the cost of food and milk, does not currently cover the price of any available first infant formula, the Local Government Association (LGA) said.
It has called for support for families with a baby under the age of one to rise from £8.50 a week to £10.47 a week, and payments for families with a baby between the ages of one and four to increase from £4.25 to £5.24 a week.
The LGA said it reached its figures by taking the scheme’s initial payments of £5.60 for families with a baby under the age of one at its launch in April 2006 and applying food price inflation to it to arrive at £10.47, with the same principle applied to the 2006 amount of £2.80 to reach £5.24 for families with infants between the ages of one and four.
The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, is asking for the Government to use the upcoming Autumn Statement to increase Healthy Start payments in line with current inflation and commit to reviewing the value of the scheme every six months.
Of those eligible for Healthy Start in England, 70% have taken up the scheme – a 7% increase from the start of the year, according to latest figures.
However, 141,970 eligible pregnant women, babies and infants missed out on the scheme in October 2023 alone, equivalent to the entire population of Blackpool.
The LGA said its analysis suggested those missing out were families with less confidence managing money or those who could not speak English well, or at all.
Councils are also asking the Government to expand access to the scheme to include all children who are facing food insecurity and poverty, which it said would help in addressing diet-related inequalities resulting from low incomes.
David Fothergill, chairman of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, said: “Healthy Start is a vitally important programme which has helped families get access to healthy and affordable food since it was established nearly 20 years ago.
“However, the scheme has not kept pace with rising food inflation and does not fully meet the value of essential items such as baby formula.
“We are asking the Government to consider using the Autumn Statement to uplift the value of the scheme to bring it in line with inflation and review every six months.
“This is an essential way of ensuring the neediest babies, children and pregnant people get the nutrients they need.”
Published: by Radio NewsHub