LOW income families in Blackburn with Darwen have missed out on more than £100,000 worth of free food in the last year.

The figure is being attributed to the poor promotion of the Healthy Start voucher scheme, a means-tested initiative for pregnant women or those who have a child under the age of four, to help them buy basic foods.

Data from Healthy Start Issuing Unit (HSIU) for England and Wales, showed that between January and December 2018, families in Blackburn with Darwen missed out on £100,882.76 worth of free fresh fruit, vegetables and milk.

While families in Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle, the Ribble Valley and Rossendale missed out on a share of around £300,000.

The total amount for Lancashire was an estimated £569,356.51, while in the North West as a whole, families have missed out on a substantial £4m worth of vouchers, with more than £28m of healthy food missed out on nationally.

Now, a coalition of 26 charities, including Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming, and the Trussell Trust, are calling on the government to boost promotion of the Healthy Start scheme to ensure others aren’t being left without basic food.

Chief Executive of Sustain, Kath Dalmeny, said: “The government is missing a trick.

“This money has been set aside to support low income and young families, but the Healthy Start voucher scheme for fruit, vegetables and milk is not being properly managed or promoted.

“These vouchers can help keep good food on the table.”

The voucher scheme can be worth up to £900 per child over the first four years of their life, and adds at least £3.10 to a family shop per child each week.

Breaking it down, the vouchers can equate to two litres of semi-skimmed milk, 1kg carrots, 900g frozen peas, and four apples from a typical discount supermarket.

Analysis of the data shows that while vouchers went unclaimed in other counties, the North West had the highest rate, second only to London, with £4million worth of vouchers left on the shelf.

In an open letter to Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, Sustain and the other 25 charities, have asked the government to fund a programme to ensure midwives, health visitors, GPs and other relevant staff in health, social care and early years settings actively help all eligible pregnant women and new parents claim their Healthy Start vouchers.

Executive member for children, young people and education at Blackburn with Darwen council, councillor Maureen Bateson said: “We do try to promote the scheme through our health visitors and midwives but it’s a tragedy that families are missing out on it, especially as it’s a challenging time for a lot of families.

“It’s up to the government to better promote the scheme and we will be doing whatever we can to ensure families know what is available.”