Home > Social Issues, The Body Politic > Why Peter Dunne won’t “Feed the Kids”

Why Peter Dunne won’t “Feed the Kids”

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feed the kids

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The Mana Party currently has a bill before Parliament, which, if passed, will fund school meals for children in Decile One and Two schools. These are schools in the poorest parts of our country.

Because as many of you readers know (or SHOULD know), child poverty has been steadily increasing over the last decades. Whether caused by low wages; inadequate welfare payments for unemployed; high house rentals and electricity tariffs; dysfunctional parents; or whatever – about 270,000 children now live in abject poverty.

Many are going to school without breakfast or lunch.

We can blame the parents or the system or whatever. But we can’t blame the kids – they don’t vote. Nor can they speak up or act for themselves (unless, through hunger, they steal food from somewhere). Nor do children choose which family to be born into.

The Mana Party’s “Feed the Kids” Bill is designed to alleviate this growing cancer in our society and to give children a chance for a decent start in life. Food in their bellies will help improve their attention in school and help them focus and learn. Because as we all know (or SHOULD know) – without an education, these children will remain trapped in poverty.

From the Website, Feedthekids.org.nz,

  • Feeding the kids should be our first priority as a nation.
  • The Bill aims to set up government funded breakfast and lunch programmes in all decile 1-2 schools.
  • It’s a simple, easy and immediate way to address growing levels of child poverty in Aotearoa and has been a key recommendation of leading organisations such as the Children’s Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty.
  • The Bill is expected to come before Parliament for its first reading on Wednesday 5 June. So far Labour, Greens, Maori Party, NZ First, and Independent MP Brendan Horan have agreed to support it. We need one more vote to get it passed and to a select committee for further consideration.

“We need one more vote to get it passed and to a select committee for further consideration“,  trumpets the appeal.

Unfortunately, that one vote will not be coming from Peter Dunne.

From the blogsite, YourNZ, run by Peter Dunne supporter, Pete George,

Peter Dunne’s vote would be the one that makes the difference to get this bill passed on the first vote. I asked him if he would support it. Dunne responded:

I fully understand what is intended by this essentially laudable proposals, but I think it is fundamentally flawed for a number of reasons.

Of course, there is a significant number of children who go to school to hungry, because they have not been properly fed at home, and of course poor nutrition has an adverse effect on learning and the subsequent development of the child. That is not the issue – rather, the question is what is the best way of addressing this problem.

At one level, the idea of meals in schools is superficially attractive, but it is essentially palliative, and does little to deal with the circumstances of these children on a long term basis.

Then there is the question of which group of children should we be focusing on. After all, not all children in schools will come from the same socio-economic backgrounds. So, should such a programme be applied universally, which would be as expensive as it would be impractical, or should it be more tightly targeted?

And if so, how? Should, for example, it just apply in low decile schools, even though there will children in those schools from a higher socio-economic status who would not need such a programme?

In that event, what about low-income household children in higher decile schools? Or, to get around income definition problems, should the children of beneficiaries be the only ones eligible?

Whatever way one looks at the issue, the definitional problems are massive, and strongly suggest that such a programme would not only be unsustainable, but also impractical, and in a number of cases potentially inequitable.

That is why I take the view that a much more realistic and workable approach is to target directly, through early identification by community agencies, at risk families and to work with them to help them  get the support they need to properly feed their children.

That support could take any number of forms, depending on individual circumstances, including direct assistance with the provision of food, at one end of the scale, through to such things as life skills advice on cooking, for example, and proper budget advice at the other end of the scale.

Such a targeted approach is far more likely to succeed in the long term, and benefit directly at-risk children, and would have my full support.

Acknowledgment: YourNZ – Dunne won’t “Feed the Kids”

Blah, blah, blah – it is vile sophistry to justify doing precisely nothing.

Dunne sez,

That is why I take the view that a much more realistic and workable approach is to target directly, through early identification by community agencies, at risk families and to work with them to help them  get the support they need to properly feed their children.

That support could take any number of forms, depending on individual circumstances, including direct assistance with the provision of food, at one end of the scale, through to such things as life skills advice on cooking, for example, and proper budget advice at the other end of the scale.

Not only is that not happening – but social welfare services are being wound back by National, and assistance is getting harder and harder to access;

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National to push 46,000 off welfare

Acknowledgment:  Fairfax Media – National to push 46,000 off welfare

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The consequences for increasing poverty, and the effects on children,  are inevitable;

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Hungry kids scavenge pig slops

Acknowledgment: Fairfax Media – Hungry kids scavenge pig slops

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So why is a reasonably intelligent, well-educated man who is socially progressive, so thoroughly opposed to feeding  our hungry children?

After all, Dunne’s track record on social issues seems to be encouragingly positive;

So what’s up with Peter Dunne and his awful, cold-hearted response to the crisis of child poverty afflicting this country? One could imagine ACT and National MPs voting against the “Feed The Kids” Bill – those people either have freezer coolant in their veins, or are ideologically wedded to rugged Individualism and Personal Responsibility (except when National is held to account for it’s stuff-ups and policy failures) that includes perpetuating poverty on a nationwide scale.

Why has Dunne fobbed off meals in schools when he knows full well that it is a successful programme that is cost-effective; helps families in need; and alleviates hunger in our children? Dunne knows full well that food in schools has been a normal feature of Scandinavia and British schools for decades.

The pay-off is kids who can focus on classes and succeed in education. As Bryan Bruce said recently,

let’s get on and feed our kids properly so the teachers are freed to do their job and our kids can learn the 21 st Century skills they will need to earn money, pay their taxes and grow our economy.

See: The Daily Blog – Can we afford to have “a chat on food in schools”?

So why has Dunne adopted a miserly attitude that would gladden the dead heart of Scrooge? Why, when he admits that hungry, under-fed children is a very real problem,

Of course, there is a significant number of children who go to school to hungry, because they have not been properly fed at home, and of course poor nutrition has an adverse effect on learning and the subsequent development of the child.

I submit to the reader that Dunne’s mealy-mouthed words about why we can’t feed hungry children is indicated in his following words,

So, should such a programme be applied universally, which would be as expensive ...

So this isn’t about whether or not child poverty and hunger exists – Dunne concedes that it does.

This is about money.

And Peter Dunne, as we know, is Minister of Revenue.

Just recently, Dunne attempted to tax carparks as part of an extended Fringe Benefit tax. Last year, Finance Minister Bill English announced that a rebate for children earning pocket money (paper delivery boys and girls, etc), would be eliminated. And Gerry Brownlee announced 9 cents per litre increase in petrol taxes over a three year period.

Quite simply, after two unaffordable tax cuts – funded by offshore borrowings – National has found itself in a fiscal hole, of a shortfall of at  least two billion dollars per year.

After Dunne’s fiasco over his failed car-park proposal – which was so unpopular with trade unions and businesses alike – his National colleagues distanced themselves  from the policy, and it was finally dropped by Dear Leader on 18 March.

A day later, Key dumped another proposal by Peter Dunne to  extend tax on cellphones and computer laptops.

As Minister of Revenue, Dunne is in a bind. He is cash-strapped to fund National’s budgetted policies.

It also means he is loathe to support new initiatives which will incur additional spending.

Especially if it puts more pressure on him to find the money to pay for said initiatives.

As Dunne pointed out,  about feeding decile 1 and 2 school-children;

“…should such a programme be applied universally, [it] would be …  expensive

How else to explain his bizarre statement,

“...the question is what is the best way of addressing this problem.  At one level, the idea of meals in schools is superficially attractive, but it is essentially palliative…”

Feeding hungry children is… ‘superficially attractive’?

Feeding hungry children is ‘palliative’??

If Dunne is opposed to feeding hungry children from this nation’s poorest families,  because he would find it difficult to reconcile extra expenditure with revenue, he should at least have the intestinal fortitude to publicly admit it. Tell us, straight up.

Hiding behind faux excuses is obscene. Especially when, with every word he writes, there are children with empty bellies turning up at our schools.

Peter Dunne writes,

That is why I take the view that a much more realistic and workable approach is to target directly, through early identification by community agencies, at risk families and to work with them to help them  get the support they need to properly feed their children.”

So. What has he done to achieve this?

Because all I can see is a cleverly-worded fob-off.

To the people of Ohariu – this is your MP. Is this what you voted for?

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child poverty

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 10 May 2013, before Peter Dunne resigned as Minister of Revenue.
For a full follow-up debate that followed this blogpost on The Daily Blog, click here.

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References

Feed The Kids

The Daily Blog:  Hungry Kids Annoy Frazzled Lobby Group Director

The Daily Blog:  Can we afford to have “a chat on food in schools”?

The Pundit: Children’s Commissioner fronts for Nats on food in schools: Corporate agenda rules

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  1. 9 June 2013 at 8:19 am

    Once again Frank you give us the whole truth and what a saddening sickening legacy. The newspaper clippings show that National is conveniently turning its back on the poor while it policies create poverty. When a doctor speaks out in desperation for the need for families to be helped and for children to be nourished by our communities it is time to act. And what does Dunne do, once again he shows himself to be cowardly when his constituents need a courageous politician who can stand up, own up, front up and speak and act out from the heart. Shame on him and shame on the rest of us if we can’t seek the best for our kids. Mana’s policy is the only real policy that addressed the problem of child starvation. It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to kill children.

    • Wendy Etherington-Mathews
      9 June 2013 at 8:33 am

      Yes Thankyou again Frank for telling us all the whole Truth and not hiding a damn thing. Unfortunately the people that need to read this will not, could they be cowering away in Shame, they should be.

  2. Wendy Etherington-Mathews
    9 June 2013 at 8:31 am

    What an extremely ridiculous argument peter Dunne has made. Of course their is no way of helping these families except if the Govt would tackle low income, working poor are also included in this mix. How can anyone be expected to get the help from work AND INCOME when they are tightening their belts massively, when housing costs take up to 80% of income. A change in Govt and economic policy will do much to lift the poverty. Let us not forget the campaign to raise the working wage to a minimum of $18 an hour as a bare necessitie and stop importing foreigners to work on rebuilding Christchurch, help the unemployed men to Christchurch and into the labour force and introduce legislation that makes Employers hire New Zealanders first through all sources, WINZ and job advertising. The cream for the top of the teirs needs to stop right across the world, I mean this is what got us into financial recession, greed.

  3. samwise
    10 June 2013 at 1:40 pm

    He’s on his way out. Can’t happen doon enough.

    I checked out the debate on the Daily Blog thread. It’s fairly obvious who Dunne’s cheerleader is.

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