UK

Health Minister Anne Milton's letter in full

Health Minister Anne Milton's leaked letter to Scottish Public Health Minister Shona Robison, dated 3 August 2010:

Image caption The Health Minister said there was no evidence the scheme improved health

I am writing to you about our proposals to abolish the long-standing statutory Nursery Milk scheme, which is Great Britain-wide, by April 2011.

There is no evidence that it improves the health of very young children yet the cost of delivering it is increasing significantly, almost doubling in the last five years.

This year, I expect milk provided through the scheme in England to cost us almost £50m - rising to £59m in 2011/12.

It does not provide value for money in difficult times and has become increasingly outdated.

The scheme is the only remaining part of what was known as the Welfare Food Scheme, which was first introduced in 1940 to protect all pregnant women and young children against wartime food shortages.

Over time, the major part of the scheme (milk and infant milk tokens) became means-tested and replaced with Healthy Start.

However, the provision of a free daily drink of milk to any child under five in childcare through the scheme has remained.

As a universal intervention, we think the scheme is out of step with the principle that public funding should focus on the most needy.

Children in more affluent families are likely to be drinking plenty of milk at home.

Children in very low-income families may be less likely to attend childcare, unless publicly funded places are available. If so, they will not be benefiting from the scheme anyway.

I am aware that the abolition of the scheme is likely to he highly controversial, particularly as this will affect some children in low-income families.

Therefore, I am considering increasing the value of Healthy Start vouchers from April 2011, which provide a targeted nutritional safety net for pregnant women and children under four years old in the very lowest income families.

However, Healthy Start is yet to be robustly evaluated (results are due in September 2012) and we need to think carefully before deciding whether to increase the voucher value before then within the context of our overall spending priorities.

It could be that we simply increase it in line with inflation (it has been frozen for the past couple of years) with a commitment to consider a further increase if the outcome of the evaluation is positive.

Abolition of the Nursery Milk scheme will be contentious and we can expect opposition from the media, parents, nurseries, childminders and the dairy sector.

However, this should not prevent us from ending an ineffective universal measure - and this would clearly be the best time to do it given the state of public finances and the need to make savings.

The Nursery Milk scheme is a reserved measure and we will need to revoke secondary legislation to abolish it.

However, as you may know, the Scottish Government funds the cost of providing milk to eligible children in Scotland and, therefore, I would welcome your views on these proposals.

To abolish the scheme we would need to revoke secondary legislation and we must move quickly if we want to achieve this by April 2011.

It would therefore be helpful to have your views by Wednesday 18 August.

I am writing similarly to Edwina Hart, the Welsh Health Minister and to Alex Atwood, the Social Development Minister in Northern Ireland, where there is a similar, but separate, scheme to Nursery Milk.

I am also copying in Michael McGimpsey, the Northern Ireland Health Minister.

Best Wishes

Anne

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites