02 Mar High Court grants permission for legal challenge to the exclusion of disadvantaged migrant children from the Healthy Start scheme
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 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.
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.
Recently, the High Court decided these grounds were arguable and granted permission for the challenge to proceed to an expedited final trial. The trial is expected to be heard in mid-April, 2021.
The claim is being brought on behalf of Child “A”, a British Citizen who is 11 months old, and her mother. Her mother has 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 is almost 40% less than what families claiming welfare benefits, and are therefore eligible for the Healthy Start scheme, would receive. On this income the family struggle to afford a healthy and nutritious diet.
Olivia Halse, Associate Solicitor at MG & Co, who acts for the Claimants says:
“We welcome the decision of the Court and look forward to eligibility criteria receiving much needed judicial scrutiny.
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 the eligibility criteria adopted excludes the very poorest children.
The exclusion of the poorest children from the Healthy Start scheme is yet another example of the government’s lamentable failure to tackle child food poverty in the UK. Now more than ever, the most deprived families need the additional help that the Healthy Start scheme was intended to provide.
We hope that these legal proceedings will result in a change to the eligibility criteria so that thousands of disadvantaged families, most of whom will be from BAME backgrounds, will be able to benefit from the Scheme and these children have a chance at a healthy start in life.”