New data shows only two out of 533 constituencies in England meet Government target for Healthy Start uptake

Healthy Start

New data shows only two out of 533 constituencies in England meet Government target for Healthy Start uptake 

New data analysis shows uptake for the Healthy Start scheme is extremely low in nearly all constituencies across England. Only two constituencies have reached the 75% uptake target set by Government, which are Hartlepool (79.2%) and Great Grimsby (75%). Uptake levels are low due to many families being unaware of the scheme or having dropped off the scheme when it was digitised last year due to problems with the application process.   

New figures from The Food Foundation and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) come as MPs prepare to debate a Bill tabled for today by MP Emma Lewell-Buck calling on the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to solve the issue of low uptake of the Healthy Start by introducing automatic registration. The Bill, which has received cross-Party support, proposes that eligible families are auto-enrolled in the scheme (with an opt-out provided where preferred) to ensure that all eligible children and pregnant women can easily access the scheme.


The five MPs and constituencies with lowest Healthy Start uptake rates in England are: (in order of lowest) 

Hendon, Dr Matthew Offord MP, Conservative
Uptake: 50.5%
Value missed out per month: £12,016

Finchley and Golders Green, Mike Freer MP, Conservative 
Uptake: 50.5%
Value missed out per month: £11,351

Chipping Barnet, Theresa Villiers MP, Conservative 
Uptake: 50.5%
Value missed out per month: £10,391

Westmorland and Lonsdale, Tim Farron MP, Liberal Democrats
Uptake: 50.8%
Value missed out per month: £2,655

Ilford South, Sam Tarry MP, Labour 
Uptake: 52%
Value missed out per month: £14,092

Cabinet and shadow-cabinet MPs with low Healthy Start uptake rates include (ordered by ranking): 

Ilford North, Wes Streeting MP, Labour, Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care
Uptake: 52.0%
Value missed out per month: £10,720
Uptake ranking out of 533 constituencies: 528 

South West Surrey, Jeremy Hunt MP, Conservative, Chancellor of the Exchequer
Uptake: 52.8%
Value missed out per month: £4,024
Uptake ranking out of 533 constituencies: 527

Surrey Heath, Michael Gove MP, Conservative, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities 
Uptake: 57.1%
Value missed out per month: £4,551
Uptake ranking out of 533 constituencies: 500

Richmond (Yorkshire), Rishi Sunak MP, Conservative, Prime Minister 
Uptake: 58.9%
Value missed out per month: £4,165
Uptake ranking out of all 533 constituencies: 465  
Central Devon, Mel Stride MP, Conservative, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
Uptake: 59.3%
Value missed out per month: £4,491
Uptake ranking out of 533 constituencies: 457


Only two constituencies have achieved uptake of 75% or over, which is the national target set by the Government for March 2023. They are: 

Hartlepool, Jill Mortimer MP, Conservative 
Uptake: 79.2% 
Value missed per month: £6,446
Uptake rank out of 533 Constituencies: 1

Great Grimsby, Lia Nici MP, Conservative
Uptake rate: 75.0% 
Value missed per month: £6,396 
Uptake rank out of 533 
Constituencies: 2

Other constituencies have made concerted efforts to tackle low uptake. Blackpool, for example, has  increased uptake rates by 10% in a year by designing and implementing targeted strategies to improve access to the scheme:

Blackpool North and Cleveleys, Paul Maynard MP, Conservative 
Uptake: 71.6%
Uptake ranking out of 533 constituencies: 304

Blackpool South, Scott Benton MP, Conservative 
Uptake: 72.1%
Uptake ranking out of 533 constituencies: 22


Uptake in England’s falls far behind that of Scotland’s equivalent scheme, Best Start Foods. Since 2021, Best Start Foods has been promoted as part of the Five Family Payment campaign – a promotional campaign focused on the package of support available to low-income families. High uptake has been achieved by promoting the package through television, radio and digital advertising and making it easier to apply – for example allowing applications to be made on a single form for all grant payments. In April, Best Start Foods was also increased in line with inflation by 10.1%.1 In 2023-24, all income thresholds for Best Start Foods will be removed, supporting an additional 20,000 people.
In Wales, where national rates are at 69.1%, a Healthy Start Network (made up of healthcare professionals across Wales) was established to improve promotion and uptake. The network has informed the development of a training course (available this summer) to increase knowledge of the scheme among all professionals who might work with eligible families.


At 27%, food insecurity rates are higher in households with children under the age of four than those with only school-age children or no children at all. The first years of life are critical for children’s growth and development, and it is imperative they receive nutritious food during this time to help them grow up healthy. 

The Food Foundation, Sustain and organisations working across food security and early years health and nutrition in the UK are calling for the following actions from the government to increase uptake

  • Develop a robust strategy to tackle Healthy Start’s low uptake across England, Northern Ireland and Wales.
  • Widen Healthy Start take-up through working towards automatic enrolment (with families able to opt-out of the scheme if they wish). 
  • Launch with immediate effect a comprehensive communications campaign to promote Healthy Start – as recommended in the National Food Strategy.

In addition, access to the Healthy Start scheme needs to be improved by:

  • Increasing the Healthy Start allowance in line with food price inflation alongside other government benefits with the value reviewed every six months.
  • Expand eligibility to all families on Universal Credit and equivalent benefits with children under five years old, as recommended in the National Food Strategy.

The Food Foundation is also calling on retailers to promote the Healthy Start Scheme to raise awareness among eligible customers as part of the Kid’s Food Guarantee.

Anna Taylor, Executive Director of The Food Foundation, said: "It's wholly unacceptable that only two constituencies in all of England are managing to meet the Government's own target for uptake.

"Clearly, the Government needs a much better strategy for ensuring this statutory scheme functions effectively, as the current approach just isn’t working.

"The consequences of this fall on hundreds of thousands of low-income families with newborns and very young children who are missing out on access to vital nutritious food.

"Although adequate promotion of the scheme is essential, we should be working towards auto-enrolling families who are known to be eligible for the scheme: it’s the obvious answer.

"As food prices soar, Government needs to stop sitting on its hands and act now."

A mother in England, receiving Healthy Start vouchers, said: "As a parent who didn't know I was eligible, I missed out on two years plus of help from this scheme.

"It should be advertised more, and promotion should highlight that when your circumstances change you can reapply for Healthy Start: even if you weren’t eligible in the past, you may be now.

"If the scheme was automatic for parents it would benefit so many more with the little bit of extra help it does provide."

Genevieve Hadida, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who analysed the data, said: "Presenting data at the Constituency level, rather than solely relying on Local Authority statistics, reveals the disparity in uptake rates of the Healthy Start Scheme that exists even within Local Authority Districts.

"We hope this new data will prompt decision-makers to better target their efforts and make the changes necessary to increase the uptake of this vital scheme in their Constituencies."


Please contact Pandora Haydon on 07789 712608 or email

  1. Healthy Start is part of the UK Government’s benefits scheme targeted at families with children under the age of four and pregnant mothers on very low incomes, as well as all pregnant teenagers below 18 years of age. It  comprises two parts: a cash allowance and multivitamin supplements. Those with a household income of £408 per month or less excluding benefits are currently eligible. Eligible families receive £4.25 per week per eligible individual (£8.50 for infants under 1) intended for spending on fresh, frozen or tinned fruit and vegetables, pulses and grains, cow's milk or infant formula, as well as free multivitamins for both pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and infants and children under four-years-old. 

  1. On 3rd April Best Start Foods payments (the Scotland equivalent of the Healthy Start Scheme) increased in line with inflation by 10.1%. This increase is in recognition of the difficulties being faced by many due to the increased cost of living. Best Start Foods now provides: £19.80 every four weeks throughout pregnancy, £39.60 every four weeks from birth until a child turns one, then £19.80 every four weeks from one until a child turns three. 

Full constituency data and data visualisation available here.  

NHS data on the uptake of the Healthy Start Scheme is reported at Local Authority level. We converted this to Constituency level by combining the April 2023 uptake data with the House of Commons Library “City & Town Classification of Output Areas” data. The latter was used to calculate the proportional split of local authorities across constituencies, based on population numbers. These proportions were then applied to the number of entitled and eligible beneficiaries of the Healthy Start Scheme while matching Local Authorities with Constituencies.  

Where only one Local Authority falls within a Constituency, the percentage uptake of the Healthy Start Scheme is the same at both levels. This can also occur across multiple constituencies which rely on the same Local Authority, and is a limitation in the underlying data being collected at Local Authority level. The value missed out on is calculated at £5.03 per week per beneficiary (Source: DHSC Questions).  

Food Foundation Insecurity tracker here.  


Anna Taylor – Executive Director, Food Foundation  

Twitter: @Food_Foundation

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About the Food Foundation
The Food Foundation is a charity working to influence food policy and business practice, shaping a sustainable food system which makes healthy diets affordable and accessible for all. We work in partnership with researchers, campaigners, community bodies, industry, investors, government and citizens to galvanise the UK’s diverse agents of change, using surprising and inventive ideas to drive fundamental shifts in our food system. These efforts are based on the continual re-evaluation of opportunities for action, building and synthesising strong evidence, convening powerful coalitions, harnessing citizens’ voices and delivering impactful communications.        
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