New Scottish benefit will spare families the “fear of stigma”

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A new Scottish benefit will spare pregnant women and families the “fear of stigma” when they use it, the public health minister has said.

Paper vouchers will be ditched in favour of a debit-style payment card under the Scottish Government’s new Best Start Foods scheme, Joe FitzPatrick has announced. It replaces the UK Government’s Healthy Start, which used vouchers.

It will be available for pregnant women and families with babies and children who receive certain benefits and will provide help to buy “healthy” items such as milk and infant formula, as well as fruit and vegetables.

“This Government is committed to doing all it can to improve the health and well-being of children in Scotland and give them the best start in life,” Mr FitzPatrick said.

“That means ensuring low-income families can access the healthy foods that some may otherwise struggle to afford.

“Introducing a new payment card to replace paper vouchers will enable families to access this vital support without fear of stigma.”

The card will be available for pregnant women and families with babies and children.

Eligible families on low-income benefits will get £17 on their card every four weeks during pregnancy and for any children between one and three years old. For babies up to the age of one, the payment will increase to £34.

Mr FitzPatrick added: “We have created more ways for people to apply and have combined the application process with Best Start Grant so families can apply for four different payments on a single form.

“As with all our benefits, we want to ensure that everyone who is entitled to a payment is encouraged to apply.

“We will work with partners including midwives and a range of other healthcare professionals to promote Best Start Foods to ensure as many families as possible know they are entitled to this support.”

Applications for the payment are now open to families.

The benefit will be administered by Scotland Security Scotland and provide eligible families with £600 on the birth of their first child and £300 on the birth of any subsequent children, with no limit on the number of youngsters supported.

The devolution of a raft of new benefits to Holyrood, through the post-referendum Smith Commission, has proved controversial after a string of delays were announced by the SNP Government.

Disability Assistance for Older People will be introduced in 2021, rather than winter 2020, and Scottish Carer’s Allowance will be put back a few months to early 2022, while the final transfer of all benefit cases from the Department for Work and Pensions to Social Security Scotland is now expected to be completed by 2025 rather than 2024.