High Court challenge to the Secretary of State for Health’s exclusion of thousands of deprived children from the Healthy Start Scheme that provides support for nutritious food and vitamins

The Healthy Start Scheme aims to reduce child poverty and health inequalities by providing 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 with the “greatest need”.

However the eligibility criteria currently excludes 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 are going without the nutritional food and vitamins needed for a healthy start in life.

Last Friday MG&Co issued judicial review proceedings in the High Court 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.

The claim is being brought on behalf of Child “A”, a British Citizen who is 9 months old and her mother. Her mother has a lawful right to reside in the UK but is expressly prohibited by UK law from claiming welfare benefits. The Claimants’ household income is just £455 per month to meet all essential living needs (other than accommodation).  This is almost 40% less than what families claiming welfare benefits and eligible for the Healthy Start scheme would receive. On this income the family struggle to afford a healthy and nutritious diet.

A Letter Before Claim raising the legal issues was sent to the Secretary of State for Health & Social Care in August and again in September of this year. However to date the Government have failed to amend the criteria or even confirm their position.

The Claim has now been issued in the High Court and the government’s response is awaited.

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

It is an unfortunate fact that children from low income families and those of BAME backgrounds are more likely to develop poor nutritional outcomes due to the lack of nutrition they receive at a young age. This can impact their health, development and wellbeing throughout childhood and later in life.  This scheme was intended to address these issues and help eliminate food poverty and health inequalities. But by excluding families like our clients, this has the opposite effect, and discriminates against poor children based solely on their parent’s immigration position, leaving thousands of economically deprived children and mothers without access to vital vitamins and nutritious food.

It is a shame, especially in light of the additional pressures of Covid-19 and the recent public attention to child poverty and food insecurity, that the Government failed to properly respond to the issues raised in our letters before claim. We hope that these legal proceedings will result in a change to the eligibility criteria so that thousands of disadvantaged families will be able to benefit from the Scheme and these children have a chance at a healthy start in life.”

Clare Jennings, Director and Head of Public Law at MG&Co, who acts for the Claimants says:

“The coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately impacted upon people from BAME communities and has brought to the fore the devastating consequences of the health inequalities that exist in the UK. The Healthy Starts scheme was intended to address health inequalities, and yet the eligibility criteria excludes children (the majority of whom will be from BAME backgrounds) because of the immigration status of their parents. It therefore entrenches and perpetuates health inequalities which can affect a person for their entire life. If the government is serious about ensuring that no child suffers food poverty and demonstrating through their actions that Black Lives Matter they will amend the eligibility criteria to ensure that all children receive a healthy start in life.


  1. The eligibility criteria for the Healthy Start Scheme is set out in the Healthy Start Scheme and Welfare Food (Amendment)Regulations 2005 and requires a family to claim specified welfare benefits.


  1. Changes to the immigration rules and to the eligibility criteria for welfare benefits in 2012 has meant that many parents lawfully in the UK (including those of British children) cannot claim the prescribed benefits which means they and their children are not entitled to the support provided under the Healthy Start Scheme. Children whose parents are undocumented are also affected.


  1. 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.


  1. For further information please contact Olivia Halse or Clare Jennings on 0208 445 9268, 07502093564 or 07897570557 or by email olivia@matthewgold.co.uk and clare@matthewgold.co.uk.