New mothers swap fruit vouchers for booze and cigarettes
Sunday, 27 February 2011 14:45
that vouchers can be swapped for frozen vegetables and fruit, as well as fresh produce.

The Department of Health (DoH) consultation on expanding the UK-wide scheme and “minimising voucher misuse” surveyed more than 2,300 retailers, beneficiaries and NHS professionals administering schemes.

In total, 21 per cent knew of occasions when a retailer had accepted the vouchers for products which should not have been allowed.

Among those polled, 34 per cent wanted to see closer monitoring of retailers in future, while 17 per cent thought the risks would increase even more as the initiative expands.

Emma Boon, campaign director of The TaxPayers’ Alliance, urged the Coalition to abolish the scheme.

She said: “All these endless handouts from the nanny state do nothing but encourage shameless behaviour from those in society who would rather spend money on cigarettes and alcohol than on their own children.”

“It’s naive of the Government to give out these vouchers and expect the scheme to have an impact on how much healthy food mums or mums-to-be are buying. This misguided programme is wasting taxpayers’ money and should be scrapped.”

More than 30,000 retail outlets, including supermarkets and small corner shops, accept the vouchers, in a scheme which costs a year.

Under the programme, pregnant women on benefits such as Income Support and Jobseeker’s Allowance receive £3.10 vouchers a week to spend on fruit and vegetables, rising to £6.20 a week during the child’s first year.

They continue to receive £3.10 a week for every child between the age of one and four, meaning that a mother of three young children can receive more than £600 a year under the scheme, on top of other Government allowances, such as a £190 health in pregnancy payment, and a £500 maternity grant.

Tam Fry, from the National Obesity Forum said: “Any programme like this relies on some honesty, and there will always be pockets of people who will exploit the system and get whatever they can out of it.

“Even if some people are abusing the rules – and some traders are allowing them to – a scheme like this is for the greater good, and most women are using these vouchers to keep their families healthy.”

He added: “I’m glad the scheme is staying and expanding.”

In the report, the DoH said it did not want to resort to taking statutory measures to tackle the problem, but would instead talk to shopkeepers about how to tackle the problem, while “promoting mechanisms already in place for members of the public to report retailers for breaking scheme rules”.

From April, the vouchers used by 450,000 families a year will also be able to be swapped for plain frozen fruit and vegetables. Products such as oven chips and stir fries containing added fat, salt or sugar or other ingredients will be not be included in the scheme.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "Healthy Start gives help to the most disadvantaged in our society. More than half a million pregnant women, babies and small children in very low income and disadvantaged families benefit from the programme.

"Voucher misuse is rare and is dwarfed by the benefits. We are working with retailers to drive it down still further. We issue over 2.6 million vouchers a month and get less than 15 reports a month of retailers accepting vouchers for products that are not included in the scheme. We follow all of these up."

/The Telegraph


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