grapes fruit on display
Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

On Wednesday, I’ll introduce a short debate in parliament on access to the Healthy Start scheme. Co-operative Party members who have campaigned hard to improve take-up of this support will know how vital it is for pregnant women and mums of young children on low incomes, enabling them to access fruit and vegetables, milk, infant formula and vitamins to a value of up to £4.25 a week (£8.50 if they have a child under 1).

A healthy diet is crucial for pregnant and new mums and their babies. Poor nutrition during pregnancy can lead to premature birth, shorter life expectancy, and a higher risk of death in the first year of a child’s life. Child food poverty stunts development. Mums who go without find it harder to care for their babies – worries about money increase maternal stress, and the cost-of-living crisis, causing soaring energy, food and fuel bills, means maternal and child poverty will increase.

So Healthy Start is important. But take-up of the scheme is low – in Greater Manchester, where I’m a Member of Parliament, it’s estimated that approximately 40% or around £5m of vouchers go unclaimed. A recent change that has replaced paper vouchers with pre-loaded payment cards may have made things worse. Some local shops and market stalls preferred by shoppers don’t accept the cards. The cost of calls to the helpline, both to apply to the scheme and to get answers to queries, is charged at 55 pence per minute for those on pay as you go mobile phones; long waits to get through mean the charges ratchet up. Meanwhile, the limited coverage of the scheme means that many low-income families miss out.

I want to raise the concerns with the minister on Wednesday, and I’d love to hear from Co-operative Party members who’ve been campaigning for improvements to Healthy Start. Have you applied for support, how did you first hear about the scheme, and how easy did you find it to apply? What’s been your experience of using the new payment cards? What difference does the scheme make to family budgets – especially as the cost of living soars? Most important, what would you like me to raise with the minister who’ll answer the debate?

Giving children the very best start in life means getting the right support to expectant and new mothers and their children, and Healthy Start has an important role to play. I look forward to campaigning with Co-op friends to ensure the scheme reaches every family who needs and should benefit from it, and helps young children to thrive.



[The debate will take place on Wednesday 7 September from 1130 am – 12 noon in Westminster Hall. You can watch at If you’d like to share your story or ideas with Kate before the debate, you can contact her at]