The Tories have been exposed denying free milk and food vouchers for babies when their parents are forced onto the new and already widely-condemned Universal Credit benefit scheme.

Frank Field, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, has described a ‘fresh horror’ of Universal Credit with struggling parents now being denied the vouchers which babies and young children are entitled to.

The Healthy Start scheme provides vouchers for milk, formula, fruit and vegetables for low-income families.

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Pregnant women are supposed to receive vouchers worth £3.10 a week, whilst babies up to a year old get £6.20, and children between one and four receive £3.10.

For a low-income family the vouchers can make a significant difference to the family’s income. For instance, a family with a child of three and a baby would receive a total of almost £500 a year in vouchers.

healthy start
Credit: Healthy Start

However, the Halton Housing Trust, which manages 7,000 properties in the North West, told the Work and Pensions Committee recently that when people previously in receipt of the vouchers are moved onto Universal Credit, a flaw in the system means that their claim is automatically stopped:

The UC application prompts a cessation of healthy start vouchers….We are concerned that some of the most vulnerable children we deal with as a landlord are increasingly at risk of being left without food.

According to the Trust, the Universal Credit application does not even bother to tell families that they will lose their entitlement to the Healthy Start programme and will need to reapply.

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In addition, the Trust says that if people do become aware of the need to reapply, and follow the advice on the gov.uk website it will:

…prompt them to complete a PDF or online form which will inform the customer they are ineligible. This is not because they are actually ineligible but due to them following the incorrect application process. No additional information is provided on how to apply for Healthy Start.

This is yet another example of the utter fiasco of Universal Credit, and how some of the poorest and most vulnerable people are left to pick up the pieces from the government’s catastrophic incompetence.

Recently, another such issue was highlighted when it transpired that people moved onto Universal Credit were being made to pay for their own medicines because the prescription form has not been updated with a tick box for Universal Credit.

The plans for Universal Credit were announced by then-Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith (IDS) at the Tory party conference in 2010.

IDS insisted it would bring ‘fairness and simplicity’ to the system. Over seven years later, and with stories in the news every single day about the monumental disaster that Universal Credit represents, the Tories are adamant that the system is working.

Discussing the latest Universal Credit disaster, Labour’s Frank Field said:

But here we are introduced to the fresh horror of vulnerable parents being unable to feed their babies. The DWP’s assault course of confusing forms, complicated processes and complex rules around Universal Credit is pushing families to the brink of destitution.

As Philip Hammond stands up to announce the latest budget, the best thing he could do would be to scrap Universal Credit altogether – no amount of tinkering could make it anything other than grossly unjust.

Clearly, he’s not going to do that: the main aim of Universal Credit is to punish the poor for daring to be poor. And on that measure, it’s working pretty well.

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