Here's the latest Argus column by Torfaen MS Lynne Neagle:

GOOD, healthy food matters and it matters, especially, for pregnant women and young children which is why I am using my column this week to encourage families to sign up for the Healthy Start scheme to get healthy food and vitamins for free.

Women who are more than 10 weeks pregnant or families that have a child under four, and are in receipt of certain benefits may be entitled to claim more than £1,200 to spend on healthy food.

Healthy Start payments, which have recently gone digital, provide eligible families with a pre-paid card that is topped up every four weeks with credit to buy healthy food such as fruit, vegetables, pulses and milk and infant formula. They can also be used to get free Healthy Start vitamins.

Sadly, however, nearly 40 per cent of people within Wales who are eligible for the scheme are not claiming the payments. Typically that means four in ten people in Wales who could be receiving Healthy Start have not applied.

With the increased cost of living affecting so many families in Wales I would really encourage eligible people to make use of the scheme to buy healthy food for their families.

Healthy Start cards can be used in retailers that sell food and accept MasterCard. They can be used to buy cow’s milk, fresh, frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables, dried and tinned pulses; and first infant formula milk.

The scheme can also be used to collect free Healthy Start vitamins. Taking certain vitamins during pregnancy and in early childhood improves both mothers’ and children’s health – ask a midwife or health visitor for advice on where to get them.

If you are not already a Healthy Start beneficiary, but you are receiving a qualifying benefit and are pregnant or have parental responsibility for at least one child under the age of four, you can apply online at https://healthystart.nhs.uk/how-to-apply I would urge anyone who thinks they may qualify to have a look.

Since the payment scheme has gone digital benefits include a a quicker decision on applications ant the ability to use the card anywhere that accepts Mastercard and sells the eligible healthy start food items.

Any money not spent will remain on the card and can be put towards healthy food and milk in the future – unlike the voucher scheme where £4.25 or over had to spent in one transaction.

The card is discreet and the balance on the card can be checked and new payments will be automatically added to the card – removing the need to wait for vouchers to arrive in the post.

It really is a good scheme and one I would really encourage people to sign up to.