Healthy Start payments need to increase by 20% to compensate for increases in the cost of food, councils have said.

The scheme, which helps pregnant women or families with children under the age of four with the cost of food and milk, does not currently cover the price of any available first infant formula, the Local Government Association (LGA) said.

It has called for support for families with a baby under the age of one to rise from £8.50 a week to £10.47 a week, and payments for families with a baby between the ages of one and four to increase from £4.25 to £5.24 a week.

The LGA said it reached its figures by taking the scheme’s initial payments of £5.60 for families with a baby under the age of one at its launch in April 2006 and applying food price inflation to it to arrive at £10.47, with the same principle applied to the 2006 amount of £2.80 to reach £5.24 for families with infants between the ages of one and four.

What is the Healthy Start scheme?

The NHS scheme offers support to families with young children and pregnant women who are on a low income and receiving qualifying benefits.

It can be used to buy healthy food such as milk, infant formula, and fruit and vegetables.

Those eligible could receive top-ups of £4.25 or £8.50 per week based on their child’s age.

Am I eligible for the Healthy Start scheme?

You can apply by email or phone if you’re at least 10 weeks pregnant, or have at least one child under 4 years old, and get Income Support, Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit run-on) and you do not get Child Tax Credit, or Pension Credit (which includes the child addition).

You can also apply by email or phone if you’re at least 10 weeks pregnant and either under 18 years old and not getting any benefits, getting Child Tax Credit and not getting Working Tax Credit and your family’s annual income is £16,190 or less, or getting income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

You can view full eligibility criteria, and apply online, here.

Calls for greater coverage for Healthy Start scheme

Which? is calling for action from the government and supermarkets to increase awareness of the program via promotions, well-trained staff, and accessibility for stores and online purchases.

Sue Davies, Which? head of consumer rights and food policy, said: “The Healthy Start scheme has potential to help many hard-up families who are struggling with the unrelenting cost of living crisis and have had to skip meals or use food banks as a result.

“However, poor take-up means millions of pounds’ worth of help is going unclaimed.

“There is an important role for the government to expand the scheme and increase its value, but we're also calling on supermarkets to help customers by better promoting what is available and providing extra top-ups for those who use the scheme.

“Supermarkets also need to make it easier for all customers to work out which items offer the best value for money, by making sure their pricing is clear and easily comparable between items.

“Supermarkets must ensure everyone has access to basic, affordable food ranges, especially in areas where they are most needed.”