21 Aug Legal challenge to the eligibility criteria for the Healthy Start Scheme which excludes thousands of vulnerable and deprived children
The Healthy Start Scheme aims to reduce child poverty and health inequalities by providing vitamins, nutritional advice and weekly vouchers for 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 mothers and 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 week MG&Co sent a Letter Before Claim 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 11 months old and his mother. His mother has a lawful right to reside in the UK but is expressly prohibited by UK law from claiming benefits. For the first 6 months of the child’s life, he and his mother were homeless, sofa surfing between different friends’ homes every few days and reliant ad hoc gifts of support in order to survive. During this period his mother struggled to feed her son.
Child A and his mother are now supported by their local authority, and receive £85 per week intended to meet their essential living needs, which is around half that which a family claiming welfare benefits and eligible for the Healthy Start scheme would receive. Even with help from the local authority the family still struggle to afford a healthy and nutritious diet.
Olivia Halse of MG&Co, who acts for the Claimants says:
“The Government has continuously acknowledged 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, which can cause an abundance of health issues later in life. This scheme was intended to address this issue and eliminate food poverty and health inequalities. But by excluding families like our clients, this has the opposite effect and leaves thousands of young economically deprived children and mothers without access to essential vitamins and nutritious food.
This is just another example of the damage, the Government’s hostile environment strategy has caused, leaving poor babies and young children at a substantial disadvantage and greater risk of health issues now and later in life simply due to their parent’s immigration status.
We hope the Government will respond positively to our letter before claim and take the right steps to ensure these disadvantaged groups of children are able to benefit from this scheme.”
Clare Jennings of MG&Co 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. We hope that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care will take this opportunity to amend the eligibility criteria to ensure that all children receive a healthy start in life and demonstrate that Black Lives Matter”.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Claimants are represented by Olivia Halse and Clare Jennings of MG&Co.