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Explanatory Memorandum to Food Benefit Schemes (Northern Ireland) Order 2003

Background and Policy Objectives

3.The Welfare Foods Scheme was introduced in 1940 as a wartime measure to protect the health of mothers and children at a time of shortages and rising prices.  Since its inception the Northern Ireland scheme has been in parity with the Scheme in England, Scotland and Wales.  Originally benefits were universal, but in more recent years, eligibility has been restricted to those in receipt of Income Support and Income Based Job Seekers’ Allowance.  The nature of foods provided has been only slightly modified over the last 60 years.  The current scheme provides tokens for milk (in both liquid and dried form) and vitamins to expectant mothers and children up to the age of 5 years.  It also provides non-means tested milk to children up to the age of 5 years in nurseries and day care and to a very small number of disabled children.

4.A UK scientific review of the scheme was undertaken in 1999 by the Panel on Maternal and Child Nutrition of the Committee on the Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy (COMA).  The COMA review concluded that whilst the scheme retained great potential for improving the health of nutritionally vulnerable pregnant women, mothers and young children, there were significant flaws within it.  It found that the scheme does not meet the wider nutritional needs for pregnant women and young children, who would benefit from a wider choice of foods to help address health inequalities; is a disincentive to breastfeeding; provides up to twice as much infant formula as 6-12 month olds actually need; and provides too much milk to 1-5 year olds.

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