Three recommendations for the UK Government to safeguard the health and safety of babies in the face of unaffordable infant formula price rises
Early childhood is a crucial time for babies’ development. The best chance to lay strong foundations is when children are little, and their brains are growing fast. Ensuring babies and toddlers have the correct nutrition is fundamental in supporting their health and development in their early years.
The rising infant formula prices uncovered by First Steps Nutrition is concerning. The analysis shows that the cost of feeding a 10-week-old baby can range from £44 to £89 per month. Vulnerable families with babies are under growing pressure, unable to afford the rising cost of infant formula and other essentials to support their babies’ early years.
Responding to the First Steps Nutrition report, Shereen Fisher, UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative Programme Director, said:
The UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK) is concerned about the pressure that rising infant formula prices is putting on vulnerable families that rely on it to feed their babies. Government support like the Healthy Start allowance is failing to keep pace with these spiralling costs and as a result, some parents across the UK are being forced to skip meals to feed their children. To stop parents having to make impossible choices, we urge the UK Government to immediately increase the Healthy Start allowance in line with food inflation.
Parents and carers need support now more than ever. That’s why UNICEF UK is calling for a Baby and Toddler Guarantee, a commitment from the UK Government to deliver the support every young child is entitled to and helps parents and carers to raise their children in the face of the cost of living crisis.
The UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK) strongly believes that families for whom breastfeeding is not an option, or choose not to breastfeed, must be able to access an affordable and consistent supply of infant formula.
All first infant formulas are nutritionally comparable and meet the same legal requirements, so there is no reason for such wide differences in the prices of formula. There is no evidence that more expensive products have additional nutritional benefits.
UK Government support like the Healthy Start Scheme in England is designed to provide nutritional support for pregnant parents and young children up to aged four. However, the level of support available through the scheme is failing to keep pace with inflation and spiralling costs, and it doesn’t reach all the parents who need it. No infant formulas are currently affordable within the allowance.
For families struggling to afford formula, there needs to be support available locally that meets the family’s immediate food needs as well as ensures they are accessing any other help they need. While many Local Authorities and Health Boards have support options in place, not all families may be able to access this support or feel comfortable doing so. During times of financial difficulty, babies being fed with infant formula can become increasingly vulnerable and it is vital that services work together to ensure babies and families at risk are given timely and sensitive support to meet their needs.
UNICEF UK is calling on the UK Government to deliver a Baby and Toddler Guarantee. This is a commitment from the UK Government to deliver the support every young child is entitled to, and helps parent and careers get the essential support they need, when they need it, no matter who they are or where they live.
1. The UK Government should immediately increase the value of the Healthy Start Scheme in line with food inflation to cover the costs of formula and other essentials that support babies’ nutrition. Currently no first infant formulas are affordable within the allowance.
- The eligibility of the scheme must also be widened to support all families on Universal Credit, or equivalent benefits. Currently the eligibility threshold is extremely low, and households must have an income of £408 per month or less, excluding benefits, to be eligible
2. The UK Government should strengthen UK Law on the marketing of infant formula and breastmilk substitutes. All infant formulas are nutritionally adequate and meet the same minimal UK compositional requirements, and there is no reason for such a wide range in prices. It is vital that all babies and parents are protected from misleading marketing and pricing practices, as per the International Code on the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.
3. The Government should commit to deliver a Baby and Toddler Guarantee, ensuring that parents and carers of every baby and toddler can access the basic services they are entitled to. A Baby and Toddler Guarantee would set out the support every child under five should receive and ensure they receive it.
- At a local level, ensure that Local Authorities and Health Boards have pathways in place that are easily accessible for families with young children experiencing financial difficulty and ensure that support is delivered in a timely and sensitive way to meet the needs of families. For more information, see our guidance for Local Authorities and Health Boards on Supporting families with infants under 12 months experiencing food insecurity