Department of Health and Social Care to extend Healthy Start Scheme following successful High Court claim

Following a claim for judicial review the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has confirmed that many more babies and toddlers from the poorest families in the UK will be entitled support under the Healthy Start Scheme.

The Healthy Start Scheme aims to reduce child poverty and health inequalities by providing free vitamins, nutritional advice and weekly vouchers to buy nutritional food or infant formula to low income families with pregnant women and children up to the age of 4. It is intended to benefit those in the “greatest need”.

However the eligibility criteria excluded some of the UK’s poorest children in the UK from migrant backgrounds because their families are unable to claim mainstream benefits, which is the trigger for entitlement. As a consequence babies and toddlers from the most financially deprived households were going without the nutritional food and vitamins needed for a healthy start in life.

The claim was brought on behalf of Child “A”, a British Citizen who is 1 year old and her mother. Her mother had a lawful right to reside in the UK but had been expressly prohibited by UK law from claiming welfare benefits and therefore Child A could not benefit from the Healthy Start scheme. The Claimants’ household income was almost 40% less than what families claiming welfare benefits, and therefore eligible for the Healthy Start scheme, would receive. On this income the family struggled to afford a healthy and nutritious diet.

In December 2020 MG&Co issued judicial review proceedings challenging the eligibility criteria for the scheme on a number of grounds, including that it was indirectly discriminatory against children and mothers from Black and Ethnic Minority backgrounds, breached their human rights and was inconsistent with the intended purpose of the scheme.

In February 2021 the High Court decided these grounds were arguable and granted permission for the challenge to proceed to an expedited final trial.

However  prior to the hearing, the Secretary of State conceded, agreeing to extend the eligibility criteria and to hold a consultation. As a result, all British children under the age of 4, whose parents would meet the financial criteria to claim welfare benefits, but are unable to do so as a result of their immigration status (or lack of immigration status), will now be entitled to support provided under the Healthy Start Scheme. The Regulations will be amended and a consultation reviewing the broadening of the scheme will take place this winter.

In the meantime, the Secretary of State has agreed to implement a process by which families in this position will be able to access support by way of an ex gratia benefit.

The Claimants are represented by Olivia Halse and Clare Jennings of MG&Co and Azeem Suterwalla of Monckton Chambers and Richard Drabble QC of Landmark Chambers.

Olivia Halse, Associate Solicitor at MG&Co, who acts for the Claimants says:

“This is a great outcome for some of the most disadvantaged children in our society who should have never been excluded from accessing this essential support in the first place. We hope this extension will go some way toward tackling health inequalities and child food poverty in the UK and help provide these children with a healthy start in life.  Now more than ever, the most deprived families need the additional help that the Healthy Start scheme was intended to provide.

Whilst this victory is a step in the right direction, the no recourse to public funds (NRPF) restriction continues to exclude thousands of disadvantaged children and families from migrant backgrounds from a whole host of vital services.

We hope that the government will seriously consider the NRPF condition and the devastating impact it has on vulnerable children and families many of whom are from Black and Ethnic Minority backgrounds.”