Nellie K on 21 October 2020

The bloody Healthy Start vouchers are haunting me again.

If it wasn’t already humiliating enough and down right inconvenient that I have to go to the shop in person to use them. Then I had the whole ‘can’t use 4 vouchers at once’ debacle, for some inexplicable reason seemingly only to make things more difficult. This weeks experience topped it all off. I’ve never felt so humiliated.

Because I usually shop online (because it’s the safer option during COVID and I spend less) I save my vouchers to use in a single shop once a month. All I buy are items covered by the vouchers. First humiliation - you can’t use self-service, an actual person has to approve the voucher use. Second humiliation - because of COVID the supermarket has converted most of their checkouts to self service, there are only one or two manned checkouts, so I have a growing queue of people behind me. Because of the no more than 3 vouchers rule I have to split my shop and ‘pay’ twice, slowing the queue down even more. My first load of shopping through the till comes to about £9.80. I use three vouchers (£9.30) and pay the extra 50p. It’s actually quite embarrassing paying with the vouchers for the cashier and all the people in the queue to see. My second load goes through the till and comes to £3. I try to pay with my remaining voucher but it won’t work. And here’s the big humiliation. The manager comes over and explains in front of everyone that I have to spend the entire amount of the voucher - £3.10. I assure her that I’m not expecting the 10p change. She tells me it won’t go through. So she takes me and my shopping back to the fruit and veg section where we try and find something for 10p - a banana. I can feel myself on the verge of crying. She explains that it’s to make sure people using the vouchers use the full value of them, and get all the fruit and veg they need. I finally leave the shop shaking with humiliation.

The healthy start vouchers are just one small example of how the system stereotypes and discriminated against people on low incomes/benefits. The baseline assumption is one of mistrust. That this group of people will try and defraud the system. So they can’t possibly be trusted to use the vouchers online, or at a self service checkout. And these people are so stupid that we have to make sure they use all the voucher money we’re giving them on healthy food because obviously all their own food choices are shit. Because £12.40 a month comes close to feeding a family of 4, 5 portions of fruit a veg a day! I’m done with it. I deserve to be trusted. To not feel humiliated. I can make healthy decisions for my family, I have a postgraduate qualification, my husband is a graduate. The school may get a pupil premium for my daughter but she is most certainly not an example of the attainment gap. I’m fed up of the assumption that people on benefits are untrustworthy and uneducated.

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