Prime Minister David Cameron has raised the possibility of handing out certain benefits ‘in kind’ rather than in cash. This has raised concerns that food vouchers, as opposed to cash payments, may be on the horizon as part of a new welfare food scheme.
So, what is the situation at the moment? And if you’re struggling to provide healthy, nutritious food for your family, what help is out there?
Cash versus ‘in kind’ hand-outs
In a speech delivered earlier this week, David Cameron made clear his government’s intention to ask some “fundamental, searching questions about working-age welfare”.
Many fear his suggestions herald the beginning of an unprecedented crackdown on benefits – which would affect, among others, many families with young children.
As part of ending the “culture of entitlement”, David Cameron floated the idea of cutting cash payments to those on welfare, and replacing them with less flexible “benefits in kind”.
He asked the question: “Is it right that we continue to pay the vast majority of welfare benefits in cash, rather than in benefits in kind, like free school meals?”.
This sort of welfare food scheme change is bound to affect families with children – even if the ‘free meals’ he talks about are worth the exact equivalent of the cash payments.
For example, it would take some of the control over food budgeting away from parents, because it would stop them being able to choose what food to spend that money on, and when.
Government food help
For families on low incomes, there are several sources of government food help currently available:
Free school meals
In England, parents don’t have to pay for school meals if they receive Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, or certain other income-related payments.
To find out whether your child is eligible for free school lunches, visit this page of the DirectGov website.
Free milk in nurseries and schools
All children under the age of five – and who are in day care for at least two hours per day – should be given a free drink of milk. For children under one, this is given as infant formula.
Visit the Nursery Milk website to find out more.
When it comes to older children, schools and local authorities can decide whether or not to provide milk. If they do provide it, it must be free to all children who are eligible for free school meals.
Free fruit and vegetables in schools
A government initiative called the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme provides children aged four to six with a free piece of fruit or vegetable every day.
If your child attends a fully state-funded infant, primary or special school, he or she is entitled to the free fruit and veg. To find out more, visit the Fruit and Vegetable Scheme page of the NHS website.
Finally, the Healthy Start scheme provides free weekly vouchers for families to spend on milk, fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables, and infant formula milk.
Pregnant women, women with a baby under one and those with children aged between six months and four years old can also get free vitamins. The vitamin coupons are sent along with the Healthy Start vouchers, every eight weeks.
You qualify for the Healthy Start scheme if you’re at least ten weeks pregnant or have a child under four and receive one of the following:
- Income Support
- Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- Child Tax Credit and have an annual family income of less than £16,190.
To find out more, visit the Healthy Start website.
Food help from charities
Many UK charities are also doing a fantastic job of providing food help to families in need. One of the biggest initiatives of this kind is run by The Trussell Trust.
It partners with churches and community groups to open foodbanks all over the country. There are already over 200 foodbanks launched, with more being planned.
Care professionals like doctors, health visitors, social workers, the police and Citizens Advice identify families and others who need food help, and issue each of them with a foodbank voucher.
The foodbank client then brings the voucher to a foodbank centre, where it can be exchanged for three days’ worth of emergency food. To find out more, visit the Trussell Trust website.
As demand increases, the Guardian newspaper is currently trying to create a directory of UK foodbanks. Visit the Guardian website to find – or help them locate – a foodbank near you.
How to feed the family for less
MyFamilyClub has already put together lots of hints and tips for parents trying to feed their families on tight budgets. The following articles should point you in the right direction!