09 May 2024

Nearly 3,000 families missing out on free healthy food scheme


Low-income families and pregnant women in Leeds are urged to make use of a healthy food scheme as statistics show nearly 3,000 households could be missing out. 

The Healthy Start scheme, a national food welfare scheme, intends to improve the diets of pregnant women and children up to age four in low-income families. All pregnant women under the age of 18 are also eligible for the payments. 

Anyone eligible receives monthly payments that can be used to buy fresh, frozen, or canned fruit and vegetables, dried or canned pulses, cow's milk or cow's milk-based infant formula. 

In Leeds, 24.6% of children are living in families on relative low income (2020/21) and despite the increase in need caused by the cost-of-living crisis, take-up of the scheme is stalling across the country. Of the over 8,000 eligible families in the city only 68% are making use of the scheme. 

Leeds City Council is now urging everyone who qualifies for the scheme to sign up and make use of the prepaid card.

To qualify for Healthy Start, you must be at least 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under 4 years, and be in receipt of:

  • Income Support, or
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, or
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, or
  • Child Tax Credit (with a family income of £16,190 or less per year), or
  • Universal Credit (with a family take-home pay of £408 or less per month), or
  • Pension Credit (which includes the child addition).

You also qualify if you are under 18 and pregnant, even if you don’t get any of those benefits or tax credits.

What you’ll get:

  • £4.25 each week of your pregnancy from the 10th week
  • £8.50 each week for children from birth to 1 year old
  • £4.25 each week for children between 1 and 4 years old

The prepaid card can be used in most places that sell eligible healthy food and milk items and accept Mastercard®. The card is topped up every four weeks with the payments.

There are several traders in Kirkgate Market who are supporting the scheme, where you can get great value fruit and vegetables and other healthy foods:

  • Greenzone, unit 280 & 282, 1875 Hall
  • Neils Quality Greengrocers, unit D, 1904 Hall
  • The Nut Shop, unit V, 1904 Hall
  • Tony Banks fresh fruit and veg, unit 227, fish and game row
  • Whitakers Eggs and Cheese, unit 324 & 325, fish and game row 

Councillor Salma Arif, Leeds City Council's executive member for adult social care, public health and active lifestyles, said: “The Healthy Start scheme is there to help families increase the amount of fruit and vegetables they eat, and give their children a great start in life. We know that a good diet in pregnancy and in the first few years of life is essential for prevention of disease and to ensure children reach their full potential for growth and development.

“It’s a great scheme and we want to ensure that everyone who is eligible is making the most of it and not missing out on support for them and their family.”

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s deputy leader and executive member for economy, culture and education, said: “We’re delighted that traders in Kirkgate Market have decided to get involved in the Healthy Start scheme, supporting our communities to gain access to fresh fruit and vegetables. 

“As a city, we want to make sure all children have the start in life that they deserve, so don’t hesitate to apply for the scheme if you are eligible.”

Victoria Eaton, Leeds City Council’s director of public health, said: “It’s really important to ensure every child in Leeds has the right conditions for the best start in life.  This is a priority for improving the health of the city.  The Healthy Start scheme can be a lifeline for many pregnant women and families with children under 4 in Leeds, acting as a nutritional safety net and enabling them to buy more milk, fruit and vegetables and claim vitamins. We’re really keen to make people aware of this and encourage and support all eligible families to sign up to the scheme.”

To apply, visit healthystart.nhs.uk, or email healthy.start@nhsbsa.nhs.uk, or call 0300 330 7010. Recipients will receive a plastic card that can be automatically credited. If you need help with the application process, please contact Digital Health Hubs – 100% Digital Leeds at www.digitalinclusionleeds.com.

To be a Healthy Start Champion and promote the scheme in your local area resources can be accessed at NHS Healthy Start communications toolkit (nhsbsa.nhs.uk).


For media enquiries contact:

Leeds City Council Communications team