Give poorest children milk, fruit and veg, says Ashworth in fresh policy announcement

Children in the most deprived areas of the country should be provided with fresh fruit and vegetables, Jonathan Ashworth will say as he announces a new policy at the Fabian Society summer conference on Saturday.

The Shadow Health Secretary is set to reveal that a Labour government would introduce a Future Generations Wellbeing Act, as the party has done in Wales, and commit £26.8m to the already existing ‘Healthy Start’ programme.

Labour has found that funding for Healthy Start – the scheme that provides food vouchers to women in receipt of certain benefits and who are pregnant or have a child under four – has been cut by more than a quarter over the last six years.

Ashworth will tell the Fabian event that by expanding the programme he hopes to improve access to fresh food for the poorest children, which will form part of a “comprehensive, cross-government national strategy to tackle health inequalities”.

He will outline legislative plans to enshrine a ‘health in all policies’ approach, make commitments on life expectancy, ensure that local health services aim to reduce health inequalities and have the NHS help tackle the climate crisis by linking health to Sustainable Development Goals.

Addressing the conference in a keynote speech, Ashworth will say: “Today a baby girl born in Liverpool can expect to live 13 fewer years in good health than a baby girl born in Richmond. It’s an injustice we cannot ignore.

“After nine years of Tory austerity, advances in life expectancy have ground to halt, and even gone backwards in some of the poorest areas. Shamefully, infant mortality rates – children dying before their first birthday – have risen three years in a row for the first time since the Second World War.

“Rates of premature deaths – including deaths linked to heart disease, lung cancers and COPD – are two times higher in the most deprived areas of England compared to the most affluent. While children and adults living in the poverty are up to three times more likely to develop mental health problems compared to those living in the highest income brackets.

“Poverty and deprivation mean people get ill quicker and die sooner. As socialists, we should never settle for this; as Health Secretary I won’t. The next Labour government will adopt a comprehensive, cross-government national strategy to tackle health inequalities, attacking the wider determinants of ill health and putting prevention first.

“We will focus determinedly on improving the health and wellbeing of every child, ensuring children have access to nutritious food not just in schools but also by expanding Healthy Start. Labour will ensure the poorest children receive the milk, fruit and vegetables they need.

“And to guarantee government decisions fully take account of long term health impacts, we will introduce a Future Generations Wellbeing Act drawing upon best practice including in New Zealand and closer to home in Wales.

“It will mean local health services, alongside relevant public bodies, will always act to reduce health inequalities and promote overall wellbeing too. It will mean our NHS, as a local ‘economic anchor’ institution in communities, takes account of the social value of every pound spent and takes its obligations to climate change seriously.

“Our health policy will be driven not just by a focus on cure but on radically improving prevention and social wellbeing too. Our commitment is to help people live longer, happier, healthier lives.”

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