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Income limits for child food benefit to be scrapped, says minister

The change was announced on Wednesday (Jane Barlow/PA)
The change was announced on Wednesday (Jane Barlow/PA)

Income limits on a benefit designed to ensure children in poverty can access healthy foods will be scrapped by the end of 2023-24, a minister has said.

The Best Start Foods benefit provides pre-paid cards to pregnant women and for the first three years of their child’s life.

But, some income limits are applied to the benefit, meaning that if households on Universal Credit – where one or both parents have jobs – earn more than £660 per month after tax on top of the benefit, they are not eligible.

Similarly, parents in receipt of child tax credit must earn no more than £17,005 per year, £7,920 per year if they receive child tax credit and working tax credit and less than £328 a week if they receive housing benefit.

Ben Macpherson
The minister made the announcement on Wednesday (Lesley Martin/PA)

However, by the end of 2023-24, social security minister Ben Macpherson has said, income limits will be scrapped on the benefit, expanding eligibility by as many as 30,000 people.

“Tackling child poverty is a national mission for us,” the minister said.

“We continue to take the necessary steps to reach the ambitious targets set out in our Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan.

“Social security is one of the main pillars of this plan and will help us to deliver support directly into the pockets of those families who need it the most.

“The cost of healthy food was already a pressure for parents and carers, and the cost of living increases are only making this more challenging.

“We will remove the income thresholds for Best Start Foods so that around 30,000 additional people who receive tax credits or certain benefits will be able to receive Best Start Foods by the end of financial year 2023-24.”

Speaking to the PA news agency later on Wednesday, Mr Macpherson said the UK Government’s Queen’s Speech was “really disappointing”.

He said: “They really must go further in the period ahead to help families.

“Not just with matters like energy costs, where most of the powers lie with them.

“They should definitely reinstate the £20 Universal Credit uplift.

“If they were to do that here in Scotland, people would be getting the Universal Credit increase but then also things like the Scottish Child Payment.

“Our extra initiatives here in Scotland would go even further for families rather than being mitigations against UK Government removals of social security.”

Food bank figures
The manager of a community pantry said many people were keen to cut costs (Andy Buchanan/PA)

Sharon Hill, the development manager at Mayfield and Easterhouses Development Trust – which runs a community pantry in Midlothian, said: “We have been operating the pantry for less than a year but it is clear that people from all walks of life and backgrounds are looking for ways to cut costs when it comes to doing their essential food shopping.

“We encourage people to ensure that they get all the benefits that are available to them and we welcome any move to open that support up to include more people.

“Like many people involved in community pantries and food banks our aim is to help people get to a place where they don’t require these services any more.”