Marcus Rashford calls on health professionals to help more families sign up for food vouchers

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Marcus Rashford has called on health professionals to help more families in need sign up to a government-backed food voucher scheme.

The England and Manchester United forward has written an open letter to health professionals in which he says he is concerned that more than 40% of those eligible for the Healthy Start scheme have still not registered.

While thousands have been benefiting from the scheme, Rashford said it was possible numbers were now "plateauing".

In his letter, published in the BMJ, he said: "Since November 2020, members of the Child Food Poverty Taskforce have used their channels and platforms to communicate about the Healthy Start scheme and to tell people how to access it, with the hope that we will be able to reach the majority of those most in need.

"While we have seen 57,000 more parents benefit from the scheme as a result, I'm concerned we are plateauing.

"More than 40% of those eligible for the vouchers are still not registered for the scheme, and I'm confident that the majority of these parents can be found in communities just like mine, where I grew up - no internet, no high street, no word of mouth."

Dame Louise Casey, a former government adviser on social policy, said the Healthy Start vouchers are "pretty complicated".

She also spoke of how she admired Rahsford's "battle to get us all to take food poverty so much more seriously than probably people have done in the past".

Dame Louise told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "What we need is a decent welfare net that allows people, importantly, to make work pay, and our Universal Credit system at the moment doesn't do that.

"We are fiddling whilst people are absolutely on the bread line in the United Kingdom, and that will be the legacy of this pandemic if the Government doesn't take much more significant action than they're doing at the moment."

Rashford, 23, has championed several food poverty incentives and last year forced Boris Johnson into a U-turn on providing free school meals throughout the school summer holidays during the coronavirus pandemic.

He also became the youngest person to top the Sunday Times Giving List after he raised £20m in donations from supermarkets for groups tackling child food poverty.

Earlier this year, Rashford recorded a series of how-to cooking videos with Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge which he said were in an effort to remove peoples' fears of cooking and end the "embarrassment" his mother felt when using food banks.

In his BMJ letter, he said more awareness was needed about who was entitled to be part of the scheme.

"Healthcare professionals are in a position to highlight the Healthy Start scheme to eligible parents, and I would very much appreciate it if you would consider collaborating with us on communicating and educating people about the scheme when possible," he wrote.

He directed healthcare professionals towards an online eligibility calculator to determine who is entitled to the scheme.

"In conclusion, and not to beat around the bush, we need you," he added.

"Every single one of you, to help us reach those most in need in our communities, especially given the planned digitisation of the scheme this autumn, which will disproportionately disadvantage those without easy access to the internet."

Labour's Wes Streeting, shadow child poverty secretary, said: "More and more children are living in poverty under the Tories. With no Government strategy for lifting children out of poverty, once again we see Marcus Rashford having to do the Government's work for them.

"If Boris Johnson is out of ideas for what to do, he should implement Labour's Children's Recovery Plan to provide immediate support for all children to catch up on lost learning following the pandemic."

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