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Covid-19 Autumn 2020 Lockdown: Newborn Babies

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 17 November 2020

What steps his Department is taking to support the healthcare needs of newborn babies and their families during the autumn 2020 covid-19 lockdown. (908880)

What steps he is taking to support the healthcare needs of babies and families during the covid-19 outbreak. (908886)

The indirect impact of covid-19 has been significant for pregnant women and their young families. Support for families is a priority, and it means short-term and long-term harms can be prevented. Health visiting teams have continued to support and prioritise high-need families. We have also gone to great lengths to ensure that informal support networks that have been there in the past to support mothers and younger babies can remain and provide the support they were unable to give during the first wave.

I know that my hon. Friend is well aware of the desire of new families to return to face-to-face services as soon as is possible, but does she agree that the amazing work of so many in the early years sector to deliver online and digital services at this incredibly difficult time must not be lost? When we return to face-to-face services, we also therefore need to capture all the amazing learning on digital and make sure we can amplify support for new families in that way.

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend on that. First, may I pay tribute to her for the work she has undertaken throughout her career with families, parents and young babies, and on early years, particularly the first years of a child’s life? I am sure Members on both sides of the House are hugely anticipating and excited about receiving her review on early years and young families. She is right to say that using digital technologies has enhanced so many areas during the first lockdown and throughout our time with covid, not only in mental health, but with young families and children. In a way, it has been a catalyst whereby we have embraced technology in all areas across health service delivery. We are making sure that we continue to do that and we do not lose the moment.

Many low-income families have struggled to make ends meet during lockdown. Families with babies under one are entitled to Healthy Start vouchers of only £6.20 a week, which is not enough to buy any infant formula that I can find on the market. By contrast, Scotland’s equivalent provides £8.50 a week for Best Start foods. The all-party group on infant feeding and inequalities, which I chair, produced a report on the cost of infant formula in 2018. It recommended the uprating of Healthy Start vouchers, because the cost involved in buying formula means that families are watering down formula or feeding their babies unsafe alternatives. Will the Minister urgently consider uprating Healthy Start vouchers, to ensure that low-income families can claim their entitlement, because many do not?