Lambeth Council hopes to increase the uptake in healthy start vouchers among eligible residents from 44 per cent to at least 70 per cent in the next year.  

The NHS Healthy Start scheme gives vouchers to support pregnant women, babies and toddlers.   

People are eligible if they are pregnant at least 10 weeks or have a child under four and get benefits.  

The vouchers can be spent on milk, fresh, frozen, and tinned fruit and vegetables, fresh, dried, and tinned pulses, and infant formula milk. Free vitamins are also included in the scheme.   

But their uptake is notoriously low. Lambeth’s aim to increase it in the borough is part of the recently published final draft of its food poverty and insecurity action plan following a public consultation.  

The three-year action plan, created in the wake of the pandemic, is set to go before its health and wellbeing board on Thursday (April 29).  

“At the peak of the pandemic, 300 food packages were delivered every day and about 100 continued to be delivered over six months later.  

“Notwithstanding how laudable our crisis response was, we know that we need to do more to address long-term food poverty. We are aware of the challenges ahead of us.  

“Food poverty thrives on socioeconomic inequalities and unfairness that are at the core of our social structure.  

“This means that tackling food poverty requires a multisystem approach and concerted action of multiple stakeholders to address the factors in the wider environment that create and perpetuate food poverty,” according to the plan, which  includes key priorities for year one.  

Food poverty is defined in the plan as “the inability of individuals and households to obtain an adequate and nutritious diet in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that they will able to do so”. 

In Lambeth, prior to the pandemic, 43 per cent of all children (about 25,000) lived in poverty after housing costs. This moved up to about half of children in the most deprived wards. 

Just under 30 per cent of all residents lived in poverty after housing costs, which is worse than the London average of 27 per cent. 

36 per cent of all children were living in food poverty compared to 31 per cent nationally, while uptake of free school meals is higher than the national average. 

Half of all adults are overweight and/or obese in the borough, while 26 per cent of children are obese in year 6, placing Lambeth among the highest 25 per cent of local authorities.  

Some groups are significantly more at risk of food poverty than others, including low-income households, Black and minority ethnic groups, men living alone, people suffering from mental health issues, frail and poor older people, as well as people with disabilities. 

The plan 

The council is aiming to focus on prevention of food poverty – investigating its root causes -crisis management and immediate provision, wider environmental factors, and funding. 

The plan sets out a series of aims over the next year. 

They include increasing uptake of healthy start vouchers among eligible residents from 44 per cent to at least 70 per cent, maintaining the UNICEF accreditation of breastfeeding status in the borough, and applying for Lambeth to become an accredited Living Wage Place.  

The council aims to increase access to publicly owned land for community food growing, make awards to residents who cannot afford to pay their council tax via a discretionary scheme, and to train staff at children’s centres to identify children at risk of food poverty so they can be given support.  

The council plans to work with schools to promote the uptake of free school meals among eligible children and provide “enriching activities and nutritious food” to eligible children over holidays. 

It aims to create food hubs to supply emergency food to those in need, trial the expansion of food waste collection services to council estates, and to develop a food compost service in the borough.  

The impact of the action plan will be monitored by the Lambeth Food, Healthy Weight and Physical Activity Strategic Group, while monitoring will be based on direct feedback from users and frontline providers, as well as data collection on indicators related to food poverty. 

The lack of specific targets is acknowledged in the plan.  

“Although we understand that setting specific targets and milestones has value, the current situation is too uncertain for us to establish realistic goals. 

“The Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath will have a paramount impact on how effectively and fast we can achieve the aims outlined in this action plan.  

“Therefore, we adopt a conservative approach to delineating indicators of success by considering that any improvement in the current situation will be seen as beneficial.  

“We will privilege qualitative evidence, such as successful case studies of community and school food growing, waste reduction initiatives,” it states.  

According to the plan, the ultimate indicator of success “will be to be a borough where food banks are no longer needed as everyone has access to adequate quality and quantity of food”.  

“Although this may not be possible in the immediate future, it is the honourable goal that we should strive for,” it states.