Marcus Rashford urges health professionals to help families sign up for food vouchers

Marcus Rashford, Manchester United, England

England star Marcus Rashford has called on health professionals to urge families in need to sign up a to a food voucher scheme.

The food poverty campaigner has raised concerns that 40 per cent of those eligible for the Healthy Start scheme – in which vouchers can be exchanged for things such as milk, infant formula or fruit and vegetables – are still not registered.

Rashford said that, while thousands more have been benefiting from the government-backed scheme after concerted efforts last year, it is possible numbers are now “plateauing”.

In an open letter to health professionals, published in The BMJ, he said: “Since November 2020, members of the Child Food Poverty Taskforce have used their channels and platforms to communicate about the Healthy Start scheme and to tell people how to access it, with the hope that we will be able to reach the majority of those most in need.

“While we have seen 57,000 more parents benefit from the scheme as a result, I’m concerned we are plateauing.

“More than 40 per cent of those eligible for the vouchers are still not registered for the scheme, and I’m confident that the majority of these parents can be found in communities just like mine, where I grew up – no internet, no high street, no word of mouth.”

The Manchester United striker has been a consistent thorn in the side of government ministers and managed to force a series of U-turns over free school meals at the height of the pandemic.

Earlier this year, Rashford launched an initiative with Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge, which the footballer said he hoped could help remove the kind of “embarrassment” his mother had felt when using food banks.

In his letter to The BMJ, he said “healthcare professionals are in a position to highlight the Healthy Start scheme to eligible parents” and urged them to “consider collaborating with us on communicating and educating people about the scheme”.

He also drew attention to an online eligibility calculator that can determine who is entitled to the Healthy Start.

He added: “We need you every single one of you to help us reach those most in need in our communities, especially given the planned digitisation of the scheme this autumn, which will disproportionately disadvantage those without easy access to the internet.”

Labour’s Wes Streeting, the shadow child poverty secretary, said: “More and more children are living in poverty under the Tories. With no government strategy for lifting children out of poverty, once again we see Marcus Rashford having to do the government’s work for them.

“If Boris Johnson is out of ideas for what to do, he should implement Labour’s Children’s Recovery Plan to provide immediate support for all children to catch up on lost learning following the pandemic.”

Additional reporting by PA

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