Healthy Start Scheme

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 12th July 2004.

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Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Shadow Minister, Spokesperson On Older People 2:30 pm, 12th July 2004

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have for the introduction of the Healthy Start scheme in replacement of the Welfare Food scheme.

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, we shall begin implementing the Healthy Start scheme as early as possible in 2005 by piloting the new scheme in a single area. In the light of that experience the scheme will be rolled out across Great Britain as soon as possible.

Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Shadow Minister, Spokesperson On Older People

My Lords, I welcome that commitment to beginning the pilot scheme. Indeed, I welcome the Government's extensive consultation on the change from the Welfare Food scheme to the Healthy Start scheme. However, the Minister will be aware that there is considerable concern, particularly in the light of the COMA review which originally considered the Welfare Food scheme, that the current scheme in its current form will not adequately deal with iron and vitamin D deficiency. Does the Minister agree that there is considerable scope for improving the voucher value for the second year of life which would then cover infant formula and follow-on formula and, as in the US, enable food such as eggs, pulses and mineral-rich fortified cereals to be purchased as well?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's commendation of our consultation arrangements. With the advent of the new scheme, which is intended to start as early as possible in 2005, vouchers will be exchangeable for liquid milk, infant formula, which is fortified with iron, fresh fruit and vegetables. We intend at a later stage to make two new supplements available, one suitable for pregnant and breastfeeding women and one for children.

Photo of Baroness Cumberlege Baroness Cumberlege Conservative

My Lords, I appreciate that there will be a pilot scheme and that one has to see the results of that, but there has been a lot of concern that this scheme is open to fraud. Can the Minister say what measures are being taken to prevent that? Further, there is concern that children who need this formula milk will be denied it at a time when they are developing and when it is particularly crucial for brain development.

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, on the second point, as I said, there will be a pilot scheme which will be just that. We shall consider how the scheme is working and learn from it before rolling out the scheme nationally. Anti-fraud measures will be built into the current scheme. These include anti-fraud devices built into vouchers, mechanisms for reconciliation of vouchers issued against those reimbursed and spot checks on retailers followed by enforcement action where appropriate.

Photo of The Countess of Mar The Countess of Mar Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister agree that while it is very important that children get the right nutrients to start with, a healthy start does not necessarily mean a sterile start? It is important that they receive antibodies to build up resistance so that illnesses such as asthma, eczema and various other allergic conditions do not occur. What are Her Majesty's Government doing to encourage parents to ensure that their children are not necessarily brought up in a sterile environment and that they get what my granny used to call a peck of dirt before they die?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, the scheme is designed to expand the range of healthy foods to people previously entitled under the Welfare Food scheme. As I said, supplements will be available. A key feature of the new scheme will be that, when people apply for it, they will be able to access consultation from health professionals.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Shadow Minister, Family, Shadow Minister, Health

My Lords, could the Minister pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, about follow-on formula in the second year of life? There is considerable concern among childcare groups that it is not a feature of the scheme as currently promulgated. Will the department undertake to look again at that?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, we will pilot the scheme on the basis described, and will look at and learn from that pilot.

Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Shadow Minister, Spokesperson On Older People

My Lords, will the Minister consider not only the content of the follow-on formula, but the value of the voucher in the second year, which goes back down to £2.80 for that year?

Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My Lords, we are trying to run the scheme at roughly the same level as the Welfare Food scheme, as was made clear in the legislation. It is a demand-led scheme, and noble Lords know that the voucher will be £2.80, going up to £5.60 for each child up to 12 months.