Smartcards to replace food vouchers for low income families

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Smartcards will replace food vouchers after a consultation found strong support for the change to a welfare scheme for low income families.

The Scottish Government said the current paper UK-wide Healthy Start Vouchers will be replaced with pre-paid digital smartcards in Scotland and change name to Best Start Foods from spring 2019.

The scheme provides pregnant women and families on low incomes with vouchers to buy affordable nutritious food.

The changes follow a Scottish Government consultation where most of the 147 respondents backed the smartcard plans which they believed would cut stigma and more than 90% said a choice of retailers was critical.

Many of the respondents backed the planned increase in the weekly payment from £3.10 to £4.25 to cover the value of providing fruit, vegetables and milk, although a few said it was still too low.

The consultation also found overwhelming support for extending the range of eligible foods in the scheme.

Nine out of 10 respondents backed providing free milk and healthy snacks to all children in funded Early Learning and Childcare while more than three quarters also wanted milk expanded to all children at that stage and 83% backed a similar extension for snacks.

A majority of respondents were against the plans link the eligibility of children’s vitamins to Best Start Foods and instead wanted universal provision.

Respondents to the consultation including medical staff, parents, health boards, councils and retailers.

Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “Improving Scotland’s health and tackling inequality starts with ensuring everyone can have a healthy diet, especially families with young children.

“Diet impacts on children’s health, their learning ability and their life chances as they grow up, but too many low income families face barriers to eating healthily.

“There is clear and strong backing for our plans to further support families, through making the system easy to use and by increasing the foods that families can access.

“This gives us a strong foundation for introducing these changes.”

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