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National’s Food In Schools programme reveals depth of child poverty in New Zealand

5 March 2016 4 comments

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Recently obtained OIA figures from the Ministry of Social Development reveal that 836 schools currently participate in the Kickstart food-in-schools programme. The programme began in 2009, between Fonterra and Sanitarium, to address a growing child poverty crisis.

According  to MSD’s data, over 100,000 breakfasts  are served to 27,061 children on a weekly basis.

This is in stark contrast to John Key’s claims on 5 November 2014, that hungry children in schools was only a minor problem;

“I do not believe that the number of children who go to decile 1 to 4 schools who do not have lunch is 15 percent. I have asked extensively at the decile 1, 2, 3, and 4 schools I have been to. Quite a number of principals actually even reject the notion that they need breakfast in schools. Those who do take breakfasts in schools tell me that for the odd child who does not have lunch, they either give them some more breakfast or provide them with lunch. But what they have said to me is that the number of children in those schools who actually require lunch is the odd one or two.”

The odd one or two” is contradicted by the ministry’s own figures which states that from 13 December 2013, “more than 5.9 million breakfasts  have been served since expansion“.

This would tally from Key’s own admission, on 18 October 2011, that poverty in New Zealand was continuing to worsen under his administration;

Mr Key made the concession yesterday when asked about progress with the underclass, saying it depended what measures were used but recessions tended to disproportionately affect low income earners and young people.

He said he had visited a number of budgeting services and food banks “and I think it’s fair to say they’ve seen an increase in people accessing their services. So that situation is there.”

National expanded the Kickstart programme in May 2013, in response to growing public disquiet and clamour to address the spectacle of children turning up hungry in our schools. It was also in response to Hone Harawira’s  Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill (aka, “Feed the Kids” Bill), which had been included six months earlier in the private member’s ballot system.

As Harawira explained in May 2014,

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"I know this bill isn't the full answer — that families need more work and better wages to feed their kids every day all week long and that much more needs to be put in place to turn around rising child poverty levels in Aotearoa. "All I want to do with this Bill is make sure our kids get fed while this is being done."

I know this bill isn’t the full answer — that families need more work and better wages to feed their kids every day all week long and that much more needs to be put in place to turn around rising child poverty levels in Aotearoa.
“All I want to do with this Bill is make sure our kids get fed while this is being done.”

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National’s subsequent, watered down programme to feed hungry children was derided by then-Labour leader, David Shearer;

“National’s been dragged kicking and screaming to the finish line on this. It’s only through public pressure and the pressure of Opposition parties like the Labour Party that’s got them there. But overall, it’s good for those kids who go to school hungry.”

In June 2013, then Social Development Minister, Paula Bennett, assured Radio NZ that only another hundred schools would take up the expanded Kickstart programme.

By the beginning of 2014, the programme was expanded to include all decile 1 to 10 primary, intermediate, and secondary schools.

However, MSD’s Deputy Chief Executive, Murray Edridge,  revealed that there had been a “47 per cent  increase since the expansion of the programme” in 2013;

“82 per cent of all participating schools are now providing KickStart breakfasts for more than two days per week and 58 per cent of schools are serving breakfasts for all five days of the week.”

This is at variance with Key’s assertions – made as late as 19 March last year – that hungry children going to school was not a problem. In minimising the problem, Key said;

“These are the facts,” Mr Key said. “At Te Waiu o Ngati Porou School, Ruatoria, Decile one, how many children came to school without lunch – answer – zero.”

At Sylvia Park School, decile two – there one or two kids, and at Manurewa Intermediate, a decile one school with a roll of 711, perhaps 12 had gone to school with no lunch.

Yes there is an issue where some children come to school without lunch. That number of children is relatively low.”

The rise in demand for KickStart breakfasts occurred at the same time as those on  welfare benefits was cut dramatically;

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley said today the 309,145 people on benefit at the end of the December 2014 quarter was 12,700 fewer than last year.

“This is the lowest December quarter since 2008 and the third consecutive quarter with such record lows,” Tolley says.

Numbers on the Jobseeker Support benefit had fallen by more than 5500 since last year and had declined consistently since 2010, even as the overall working age population increased.

Even children with disabilities did not escaped this government’s culling of welfare recipients;

More than 11,000 disabled children have lost access to a welfare benefit that is supposed to support them, as officials try to rein in previously-ballooning costs.

A Child Poverty Action Group report on disabled children, launched in Auckland today, said children supported by the child disability allowance almost trebled from 17,600 in 1998 to 45,800 in 2009, but were then cut back to just 34,500 last June.

The cut has been achieved both by tightening criteria and by simply not publicising the allowance.

The problem of hungry school children drew John Key’s attention as far back as 2007, when he was still Leader of the Opposition;

National launches its Food in Schools programme
Sunday, 4 February 2007, 1:21 pm
Press Release: New Zealand Government

John Key MP
National Party Leader

3 February 2007

National launches its Food in Schools programme

National Party Leader John Key has announced the first initiative in what will be a National Food in Schools programme.

“National is committed to providing practical solutions to the problems which Helen Clark says don’t exist,” says Mr Key.

During his State of the Nation speech on Tuesday, Mr Key indicated National would seek to introduce a food in schools programme at our poorest schools in partnership with the business community.

Mr Key has since received an approach from Auckland-based company Tasti foods.

“I approached Wesley Primary School yesterday, a decile 1 school near McGehan Close, a street that has had more than its fair share of problems in recent times. I am told Wesley Primary, like so many schools in New Zealand, has too many kids turning up hungry.

“We’re putting Tasti and Wesley Primary together. This is a fantastic first step. In addition to this, Tasti has indicated they may wish to expand their generous donation of food to other schools in need, and we’ll be looking to facilitate that.

“We all instinctively know that hungry kids aren’t happy and healthy kids.”

Mr Key is also inviting other businesses to contact National so it can work on expanding the programme.

“I want this to be the first of many schools and businesses that we put together. I’m interested in what works and I am humbled by the support this idea has received already. We are going to put together the package while in Opposition. We are not waiting to be in Government, because all our kids deserve better.”

According to National,  this was a critical problem in 2007.

Yet, on 19 March, National and it’s coalition supporters voted down Mana’s “Feed the Kids” Bill (which had been taken over by the Green Party after Hone Harawira lost his Te Tai Tokerau seat in 2014). The Bill was defeated 61 to 59, courtesy of National, ACT, and Peter Dunne.

MSD also disclosed that 26 applications for participation in the KickStart programme had been declined. This included Early Childhood Education (ECE) providers. No reason was given despite the OIA request specifically asking the basis for which applications were declined.

This indicates that pre-schoolers are presently attending ECE facilities and going hungry.

The MSD also admitted that Charter Schools – which are funded at a higher rate than State and Integrated Schools – also participate in the KickStart programme. Their information did not reveal how many or which Charter Schools were participating. The MSD statement confirmed that “the provision of the [KickStart] programme  does not affect a school’s funding“.

Kidscan currently lists fourteen schools that are still awaiting “urgent support, that’s 1,661 children waiting for food, clothing and basic healthcare“.

In contrast, several European nations provide free meals to school children;

The school lunch provides an important opportunity for learning healthy habits, and well-balanced school meals have been linked to improved concentration in class, better educational outcomes and fewer sick days. Given the importance of these meals, what is being done across Europe to ensure all children have a balanced and enjoyable lunch?

Many countries in Europe have policies to help schools provide nutritionally balanced meals which also reflect the general eating culture of each nation. Often, lunch is eaten in a cafeteria-like setting where children receive food from a central service point (e.g. Finland, Sweden and Italy).

In Finland and Sweden, where all school meals are fully funded by the government, lunches follow national dietary guidelines including the ‘plate model’. An example meal is presented to guide children’s self-service…

Finland – which consistently scores highly in OECD PISA educational rankings – introduced free school meals in 1948;

Finland was the first country in the world to serve free school meals. 1948 is seen as being the year when free school catering really  started, though catering activities on a smaller scale had been around since the beginning of the 20th century.

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Section 31 of the Basic Education Act states that pupils attending school must be provided with a properly organised and supervised,  balanced meal free of charge every school day.

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The role of school meals is to be a pedagogical tool to teach good nutrition and eating habits as well as to increase consumption of  vegetables, fruits and berries, full corn bread and skimmed or low fat milk.

Interestingly, the Finns describe free school meals as an Investment in Learning;

In Finland, we are proud of our long history of providing free school meals…

… A good school meal is an investment in the future.

With rising housing and rental costs, and wage increases  at or below inflation, not every family can successfully balance budgets to ensure a nutritious meal for their children. When it comes to a decision whether to pay the power bill, or cut back on groceries for the week – it is often the latter that is sacrificed.

The Salvation  Army recently  outlined the problem of the phenomenon known as the “working poor“;

Every week 314 new people contact the Salvation Army for assistance, and those who are currently working are often at risk too.

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The Salvation Army says it is meeting more and more responsible people who have experienced misfortune that has derailed their lives.

It believes the cost of rent is a dangerous factor, even for those working.

“It doesn’t leave a lot of room for something to go wrong,” says Jason Dilger, a representative for the Salvation Army. “I do believe there are a significant number of people out there who are vulnerable.”

It says an increasing number of Kiwis are living pay-by-pay, but ideally everyone would have a financial safety net set aside to help with any unexpected hiccups.

“So many people aren’t even in a position to think that way because they’re just trying to meet expenses week to week.”

In a 2014 report, the Salvation Army stated;

Given the recent growth in the number of jobs available and the gradual decline in levels of unemployment, we should have seen a  tapering off in demand for food parcels from food banks. We have not seen this. Such demand has remained virtually unchanged since 2010, which suggests that many households are still struggling to pay bills and feed their family despite the economy recovery. Overall living costs of low income households appear to be moving in line with general inflation.

Which illustrates that the problems faced by poor, lowly-paid, and beneficiary families is not choices in expenditure – but low incomes which fail to meet the many day-to-day, week-to-week, demands placed on them.

From the 1950s through to the  1970s, a single income was often sufficient to raise a family and pay the bills.

In contemporary New Zealand, this is no longer the case. Falling rates of home-ownership is just one indicator that incomes are not keeping pace with rising costs of living.

Growing child poverty is another symptom of the increase in inequality since the mid-1980s. Prior to the 1980s, food banks were practically an unknown rarity;

Nationally, the number of foodbanks exploded following the 1991 benefit cuts, and the passage of the Employment Contracts Act (ECA). For those in already low-paid and casual jobs, the ECA resulted in even lower wages (McLaughlin, 1998), a situation exacerbated by the high unemployment of the early 1990s (11% in 1991). The benefit cuts left many with debts, and little money to buy food (Downtown Community Ministry, 1999). In 1992 the introduction of market rents for state houses dealt another blow to state tenants on low incomes. By 1994 it was estimated that there were about 365 foodbanks nationally, one-fifth of which had been set up in the previous year (Downtown Community Ministry, 1999).” – “Hard to swallow – Foodbank Usage in NZ”, Child Poverty Action Group, 2005

Shifting responsibility for this ever-growing problem onto  victims of inequality and poverty is a form of denial. It is little more an attempt to evade the problem, especially when no practical solutions (other than class-based eugenics) are offered.

Addressing the real causes of poverty and working-poor will be a tough call. Ensuring that all children are provided nutritious meals at school is the first step down this road.

As John Key said nine years ago;

“We all instinctively know that hungry kids aren’t happy and healthy kids.

… all our kids deserve better.”

Indeed, John. I couldn’t have said it better.

Postscript

The MSD response to my OIA request also confirmed that the increased up-take of the KickStart programme was not restricted solely to low-decile schools;

Since the expansion [in 2013] 170 schools rated decile five or higher have joined the programme.

Which indicates that schools in middle-class areas are now requiring State assistance to feed hungry children.

 

 

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References

Email: OIA Response from Ministry of Social Development

Kickstart Programme: Home

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

NZ Herald: 300,000+ Kiwi kids now in relative poverty

Parliament Today: Questions and Answers – November 5

Scoop media: Hone Harawira – Feed the Kids Bill

NZ Herald: Harawira’s ‘feed the kids’ bill begins first reading

Radio NZ: Govt gives $9.5m to expand food in schools programme

Radio NZ: Government to expand food in schools programme (audio)

Kickstart Programme: FAQ

NZ Herald:  Government votes down ‘feed the kids’ bill

Radio NZ: Parliament rejects free school lunch bills

Fairfax media: Beneficiary numbers fall again: Government

NZ Herald: 11,000 disabled children lose welfare benefit

Scoop media: National launches its Food in Schools programme

Radio NZ: Ministry says charter schools “over-funding” is $888,000

Kidscan: Supporting Schools

European Food Information Council: School lunch standards in Europe

Wikipedia: Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) – 2012

NZ Federation of Family Budgetting: Why are so many of us struggling financially?

Child Poverty Action Group: Hard to swallow: Foodbank use in New Zealand

Additional

Fightback: Feed the Kids, end the hunger system

NZ Herald: Number of Kiwi kids in poverty jumps by 60,000

Previous related blogposts

Can we afford to have “a chat on food in schools”?

National dragged kicking and screaming to the breakfast table

Are we being milked? asks Minister

High milk prices? Well, now we know why

Poor people – let them eat cake; grow veges; not breed; and other parroted right wing cliches

Poor people – let them eat cake; grow veges; not breed; and other parroted right wing cliches… (part rua)

Once were warm hearted

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 29 February 2016.

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Can we afford to have “a chat on food in schools”?

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Free Milk - Auckland School Children 1939c free milk 1937-1967 ATL

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1. We’ve had the ‘chat’

We should all know the facts and stats by now;

In 2006/07 230,000, or 22 percent, of New Zealand children were still living in poverty. That is, in households with incomes below the 60 percent median income poverty line, after taking housing costs into account. This is more than the entire population of North Shore City (205,605) or the Manawatu-Wanganui region (222,423) and means one adult and one child were living on $430 a week before housing costs. (see:  Brief Statistics on Child Poverty in New Zealand 2004-2008)

By 2011/12, approximately 270,000, or 25%, of New Zealand children were living in poverty. (see: Solutions to Child Poverty)

A recent UNICEF report placed New Zealand amongst the worst in developed countries for child wellbeing, ranking us 25th out of 34 developed countries.  We are  now behind Australia and Britain also for homicide rates, child health, and safety.  (See: NZ ranked poorly on child welfare)

The same UNICEF report rated our country  third for clean air and fourth for children’s education outcomes in reading, maths, science and literacy. I’m sure clean air and high achievements in readin’, writin’, ‘n ‘rithmetic, will mean a lot to young chldren going to school with empty bellies… (Note sarcasm.)

In 2011, Dennis McKinlay, executive director at Unicef New Zealand, said,

New Zealand currently spends US$14,600 ($17,500) per child whilst, in comparison, Scandinavian countries spend US$50,000 per child under six. Other countries, like the Netherlands, spend less but have better outcomes. The stark reality is that poor outcomes for children are costing New Zealand $6 billion per year in areas such as health, welfare services, crime and justice.

Acknowledgement: NZ Herald – Study: Quarter of NZ kids in poverty

McKinlay was 100% on the mark when he said spending  on children should not be considered as a social cost but as an economic investment for the future of the country.

We have lost our moral compass when we demand tax cuts ahead of good policies that benefit our children.

The situation is so dire for many families that their households are often empty of food. After rent, power, and other fixed costs are  taken out of their meagre incomes, there is simply not much left for discretionary spending on things  like food, medication, clothing, etc.

As a blogger, “Burnt out Teacher” (Amanda Kennedy),  recently wrote on The Daily Blog,

You have $440 dollars after tax from your minimum wage job. $290 of it goes on your rent. You have $150 left. You pay $198 towards your power bill. Your car needs registering at a cost of $290.97. You owe Watercare $58.20 for last month. You need at least $15 of petrol to get to the doctor and back (the doctor will cost another $20 per child) because your children have asthma and your house is damp and cold. Both kids need new shoes for winter. Your boyfriend just beat you up. You are crying. How much debt are you in, and what are your kids going to eat today?

Acknowledgement:  The Daily Blog – Hungry Kids Annoy Frazzled Lobby Group Director

To those who care enough, I encourage you to read “Burnt out Teacher’s” full blogpost. It makes for sobering reading.

2. More ‘chat’?

On 7 May, Children’s Commissioner, Dr  Russell Wills, wrote an op-ed piece for the Dominion Post;

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Time for a chat on food in schools

Acknowledgement: The Dominion Post – Time for a chat on food in schools

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As Dr Wills said,

We need solutions that recognise the many complex causes of child hunger and poverty if we are to use the limited resources we have to make a real difference to children’s education and health outcomes.

Blaming parents is unhelpful and simplistic.

So far, so good.

However, in the next sentence from Dr Wills gave cause for concern,

I am not a fan of overseas models of fully state-funded school cafeterias. They tend to provide poor food, assume state responsibility for a parent’s role, create dependence, cost a lot of money that could be better spent elsewhere, take up school management time, and provide no role for parents, business or community organisations.

Dr Wills may or may not realise that by  issuing the statement that “fully state-funded school cafeterias… tend to provide poor food, assume state responsibility for a parent’s role, create dependence…” – he is perpetuating several unhealthy prejudices which the politically rightwing and conservative religious groups use to oppose food in schools for children.

Namely the extremist neo-conservative group, the so-called “Family First”, which also stated,

It also creates a dependence on a service which may not always be able to be provided…

[…]

It also creates a dependence on a service which may not always be able to be provided.

Acknowledgement: “Family First’: Food In Schools Will Feed The Problem

Hopefully it is a mere coincidence that Dr Wills’ comments seem to mirror the extremist views of “Family First”.

Where Dr Wills’ op-ed piece falls down is his proposals for how to provide food in schools. Dr Wills proposed that schools be responsible for growing their own food, and to operate in partnerships with businesses. He promoted philanthropy rather than state intervention.

I asked for feedback from the principals of  two low decile schools, and from Bryan Bruce, documentary-maker,  child poverty campaigner,  and producer of  the documentary, “Inside Child Poverty“, on Dr Wills’ proposals.

I first asked all three;  having read Dr Wills’ op-ed piece, “Time for a chat on food in schools”, what was their overall view on the points he had made?

Ruth O’Neill
Principal, Cannons Creek School

The points he makes are quite valid. I think he is right that we do need a different approach to the way cafeteria type models run overseas.  NZ general has its main meal in the evening – however in saying that these children often only eat what they are given at school and don’t eat much in the evening. To form a group to look into the best way to supply food is a good idea.

Mike Fackney
Principal, Taita Central School

 

Overall, his comments are generally valid and his suggested solutions have merit – but only if you regard the solutions as short-term solutions. The real solution to child poverty is for structural changes to NZ society and changed government policies, particularly ensuring a decent living income for all. With this approach, all families would be able to afford the food, afford the time to put into their kids (not working 2 jobs, or working early morning shifts, etc). Education for parents to help with budgeting, cooking, etc would also fill a gap. Without this approach, the proposed solutions rely on businesses, charities, and schools.

I then asked, what was their view on Dr Wills’ suggestions that,

I am not a fan of overseas models of fully state-funded school cafeterias. They tend to provide poor food, assume state responsibility for a parent’s role, create dependence, cost a lot of money that could be better spent elsewhere, take up school management time, and provide no role for parents, business or community organisations.

Ruth O’Neill
 

I think he is right.  We need to look for a nutritious alternative that does not take school time – we are there to provide education not food.  The food needs to be provided by an independent source that is reliable.

Mike Fackney
 

I worked in UK schools for 4 years from 1999-2002, and saw the ‘school dinners’ (lunches) programme in operation. I don’t know about the cost to the authorities, but I don’t think it took up much school management time. The food quality was variable, but this is easily changed with the right will, as showed by Jamie Oliver’s crusade to make school dinners healthy.

Bryan Bruce
Documentary Producer

You can find good and bad examples of state funded cafeterias. So we know how bad it could be – let’s regulate the process from the start and model ourselves on the best ones – like the one I visited in Sweden . It is in a migrant area and the food was nutritious, tasty and much enjoyed by the kids .

My next point;  Dr Wills suggested that, “in some schools parents and whanau are encouraged to help garden, harvest veges, cook and serve the food. This teaches gardening and cooking skills, and helps build relationships between parents, whanau and teachers

Ruth O’Neill
 

This is a glorious hope – but it wont work in the long term.  Yes it is great to grow veges and encourage parents to be involved but this won’t supply the lunches everyday. The parents are not reliable enough to turn up everyday and make lunch – for it to work properly it needs to be a commercial venture.  Schools have to have a fully guaranteed liunch programme everyday that they don’t need to worry about.

Mike Fackney
 

Great if it works. Problems include vandalism to gardens, and difficulty to have parents regularly available. Yes it may help with relationships but not necessarily – relationship are better built over students’ education.

Bryan Bruce
 

While I think its a very good idea to teach kids how to grow food, but the idea of sustaining a school food programme on a grow your own basis would take up most of the playing fields and leave the kids with little time for anything else .

I then asked, is this practical practical in the short term? Long term? Would gardening, harvesting veges, cooking and serving the food be more time consuming than the provision of fully state-funded school meals?  Where would vegetables be cooked?

Ruth O’Neill
 

I have no idea where the food would be cooked on a large scale.  You have to employ people who have the skills to provide food on a large scale everyday.  We would have nowhere at present that you could cook or eat on a large scale.

Mike Fackney
 

I believe it would be [more time consuming than the provision of fully state-funded school meals].

With the UK school dinners, the schools have commercial kitchens. This school [Taita Central School] certain doesn’t have the necessary kitchen facilities.

Bryan Bruce
 

Food is a fundamental health need. Let’s put in the Swedish model – full time caterers and school restaurants. This will create jobs, ( for chefs, cooks, builders) which will stimulate our economy, reduce our health spend on crisis care for obese, diabetic and future adults with dodgy hearts.

Dr Wills further claimed that,  “teachers involve students in the growing, harvesting and preparation of the food, so the programme is linked to learning goals. In many cases NGOs partner schools and businesses to provide the programme.”

Is a Public Private Partnership a desirable proposal? Or reliance on a a current ideological fad?

Does reliance on “teachers involve students in the growing, harvesting and preparation of the food” take students away from an already packed curriculum and place more demands on teachers and other staff?

Ruth O’Neill
 

Teachers do not have time to do this on the scale that is needed to feed the whole school.  Being out in the sunshine gardening is lovely – but what about winter!!!  We won’t get to National Standards in Reading, Writing, and Maths if we are out gardening all day.  To have small class gardens that we have where children grow vegetables and take them home is great and teaches the skills of growing food but this won’t work on an everyday basis to feed everyone.

Mike Fackney
 

To Dr Wills suggestion that  “teachers involve students in the growing, harvesting and preparation of the food, so the programme is linked to learning goals. In many cases NGOs partner schools and businesses to provide the programme” – Mike Fackney responded,

This is fine, but not something which can really continue on an on-going basis, particularly with all the other expectations the government has on schools.

And when asked “Is a Public Private Partnership a desirable proposal? Or reliance on a a current ideological fad?” – he replied,

It’s never really a desirable proposal for schools to rely on private support.

Bryan Bruce
 

Bryan Bruce was even less enthusiastic at Dr Wills’ proposals,

We seem to be going back to the 19th Century idea of relying on charities and volunteers to look after the poor. Haven’t we learned anything ?

In my view it’s like this – teachers are not hired to be caterers. They are doing it out of compassion. Are we now asking them to be full time gardeners as well.

Dr Wills also said ; “In many cases NGOs partner schools and businesses to provide the programme… It gives businesses an opportunity to give back to their communities, the cost to the taxpayer is reduced and the food is nutritious. Notice that these models leave responsibility for running and funding programmes with communities.”

He also states,

However, I think there could be two potential roles for government funding. First, there is a place for a co-ordination role to bring together schools and businesses, and manage the programme and the workload for principals and business owners.

Second, there is an argument to match government funding to philanthropy on a sliding scale.

For example, $3 for every $1 raised in a decile 1 school, decreasing for better-off schools.

Matched funding like this encourages communities to build and own their own solutions, and incentivises businesses to give to their communities rather than replacing philanthropy with taxpayer funding, which has the opposite effect. Funding could be made available only to programmes that adhere to agreed standards, raising the quality of programmes. None of this requires legislative change.”

Dr Wills appears to be promoting a State/Philantropy Partnership policy. Is this a practical means by which to promote food in schools, or is it an abrogation of duties which should be the State’s responsibility on this issue?

What happens where businesses or private philantropy is not forthcoming – especially in poorer areas with high unemployment and few businesses? And would private businesses expect a quid pro quo, ie, advertising on school grounds?

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Upper Hutt School

Photograph:  Upper Hutt School, Upper Hutt

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Ruth O’Neill
 

This again puts pressure on schools to spend time on activities other than teaching children!!  There is no money in the community. $10 is alot of money in Cannons Creek.  We do not charge more that $2 or $3 for a school trip and subsidise the rest with school money. We have no school fees and provide such things as sunhats, beanies, shoes, socks, etc ourselves.  I think there needs to be further investigation into how poor is poor.  It may only be small groups of decile 1 schools that need this support.

 

Mike Fackney
 

To Dr Wills’s comment that  “in many cases NGOs partner schools and businesses to provide the programme… It gives businesses an opportunity to give back to their communities, the cost to the taxpayer is reduced and the food is nutritious. Notice that these models leave responsibility for running and funding programmes with communities.”

Mike  replies,

A far easier way is that it’s organised through the taxation system (i.e. a fairer taxation system) and provided by government – as schools are.

As for the rest of Dr Wills’ comments above, Mike says,

All of this sounds like an organisation nightmare.

Bryan Bruce
 

If we want to rebuild a fair an equitable society where every child gets a fair go you can’t have kids in poor schools gardening to grow their dinner while kids in rich schools get their lunch provided and spend their school time doing maths and reading. If the public school system does not treat every child equally (and it already isn’t) then watch the gap between the rich and the poor get bigger and bigger.

Dr Wills also suggests that ,  “ … we need a small project to bring together schools, NGOs, officials and experts to reach a consensus on what food in schools done well looks like. From there we could develop guidelines and standards for food in schools programmes.
Is this a viable, necessary step? Or a case of “talking heads around a table” whilst the problem of hungry children goes unaddressed?

Ruth O’Neill
 

This sounds like a great idea – count me in. If this is going to be addressed properly and a long term healthy solution found then it needs a focused approach. With the right people and funding it could move quite quickly.

When I asked, can we afford Dr Wills’  suggestion “Maybe it’s time for a cup of tea on food in schools?“, Bryan Bruce was less than impressed,

Bryan Bruce

 

Forget the cup of tea and the charity and poor kids being constant gardeners – 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.

Ruth also offered her thoughts on  matters arising  from Dr Wills’ ideas.
Questons such as; who cares and tends to the gardens during school holidays? Are school staff expected to tend to garden plots during holidays?

Ruth O’Neill

I can tell you that the class gardens all go to seed over the xmas break and then it takes all of term 1 when the soil is rock hard to get them up and running again.  Then in the winter they are like a bog!!! On any given weekend people will come into the grounds and trash them, throw alcohol and broken glass bottles in them. Urinate in them – would you want your child doing the gardening?? Or people steal the veges.

What about schools that have little or no spare land for gardens?

 Exactly??? Or who have high vandalism.

I then asked how much food can be grown to sustain anywhere from thirty to a few hundred school children in any given school? The respone from Ruth was fairly predictable,

You could not grow enough food to maintain the whole programme. It is also a question of having the right veges on the right day to make the soup or the sandwiches. You need lettuces and tomatoes everyday!!

And of course the also-obvious question which I put to Ruth –  what do children eat whilst crops are growing?

Exactly – totally impractical unless it is on a massive commercial scale for a big group of schools and the funding to buy in produce when needed to supplement supplies.

 

And is a “chat”  really necessary – or is it time to Just Do It; to get on with feeding our children and leave the “conversation” to some other time? (It’s easy for middle class professionals to want to engage in public debate. Especially on a full belly.)

Ruth O’Neill

It needs addressing and in a timely manner – the chat would need to lead to actions and funding.

Mike Fackney

All of the above are very valid concerns.

This blogger concurs with Bryan, Ruth, and Mike; Dr Wills has suggested some positive ideas – but the prospect of turning our schools into vast agricultural plots to feed hungry child is simply not practical.

Children go to school, first and foremost, to learn.

Those children from low-income or impoverished families should not be made to become mini-farmers.

Teachers go to school, first and foremost, to teach.

They do not expect to add Farm Manager to their C.V.

Child poverty is here, in our country. Whilst right wing conservatives  ‘tut-tut’ and wag their judgemental fingers at the problem (I refuse point-blank to call it an “issue”), children through no fault of their own are going hungry and their  learning experience is diminished.

As a nation, it is almost as if we have embarked on a deliberate course of increasing poverty and ensuring the advent of the next generation of impoverished New Zealanders.

If that is our aim, then we are exceeding all expectations. The UNICEF report referred to above proves that poverty is a growth industry in this country.

The time for “chat” is over.

3. “Feed The Kids” Bill in Parliament – Chat with MPs

The Mana Party in Parliament has a Bill before the House. The bill is designed to fund nutritional breakfasts and lunches to all their students in decile 1 and 2 schools.

For more info, see: Feed the Kids Bill

As their website points out,

  • 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.

One more vote.

That’s all it will take.

Accordingly, Documentary-maker and child poverty campaigner, Bryan Bruce, is encouraging people to write to all MPs, asking that they vote for the Bill. As Bryan wrote on his Facebook Page,

You’re 7 years old. It’s winter. You haven’t had breakfast and you’re hungry. What do you want to hear?

“Why doesn’t your Mum feed you in the morning? I hope you’re not going to grow up to be a bad parent like her?”

OR

“Hey! Here’s some Milo. There’s toast over there and weetbix , milk and fruit on the table. Help yourself.”

We can’t change tomorrow if we don’t do the right thing today.

Please contact your local MP and ask them to support the Feed The Kids Bill. You will find their email addresses here:

http://www.parliament.nz/en-NZ/MPP/MPs/MPs

Bryan even suggests a pre-formatted letter to send,

Dear [or Kia ora]  (name of MP)

My name is…………. I live in your electorate . I urge you to commit to cross- party talks on how to end Child Poverty in New Zealand.

Please begin by agreeing to Cross-Party discussions on how we can implement a policy of supplying healthy meals in schools and show good faith by supporting the Feed The Kids Bill as a first step.

Yours faithfully………

Even something as simple as,

Dear [or Kia ora]  (name of MP)

Please support the Feed the Kids Bill. Nothing is as important as ensuring that all children have a decent chance in life.

Yours faithfully………

Or,

Dear [or Kia ora]  (name of MP)

Please support the Feed the Kids Bill. This is so important to me that I’ll be basing my vote at the next election for those candidates/parties who support this Bill.

Yours faithfully………

The MPs email addresses,

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Adams, Amy National Party, Selwyn
Ardern, Jacinda Labour Party, List
Ardern, Shane National Party, Taranaki-King Country
Auchinvole, Chris National Party, List
Bakshi, Kanwaljit Singh National Party, List
Banks, John ACT New Zealand, Epsom
Barry, Maggie National Party, North Shore
Beaumont, Carol Labour Party, List
Bennett, David National Party, Hamilton East
Bennett, Paula National Party, Waitakere
Blue, Jackie National Party, List
Borrows, Chester National Party, Whanganui
Bridges, Simon National Party, Tauranga
Browning, Steffan Green Party, List
Brownlee, Gerry National Party, Ilam
Calder, Cam National Party, List
Carter, David National Party, List
Clark, David Labour Party, Dunedin North
Clendon, David Green Party, List
Coleman, Jonathan National Party, Northcote
Collins, Judith National Party, Papakura
Cosgrove, Clayton Labour Party, List
Cunliffe, David Labour Party, New Lynn
Curran, Clare Labour Party, Dunedin South
Dalziel, Lianne Labour Party, Christchurch East
Dean, Jacqui National Party, Waitaki
Delahunty, Catherine Green Party, List
Dunne, Peter United Future, Ohariu
Dyson, Ruth Labour Party, Port Hills
English, Bill National Party, Clutha-Southland
Faafoi, Kris Labour Party, Mana
Fenton, Darien Labour Party, List
Finlayson, Christopher National Party, List
Flavell, Te Ururoa Maori Party, Waiariki
Foss, Craig National Party, Tukituki
Genter, Julie Anne Green Party, List
Gilmore, Aaron National Party, List
Goff, Phil Labour Party, Mt Roskill
Goldsmith, Paul National Party, List
Goodhew, Jo National Party, Rangitata
Graham, Kennedy Green Party, List
Groser, Tim National Party, List
Guy, Nathan National Party, Otaki
Hague, Kevin Green Party, List
Harawira, Hone Mana, Te Tai Tokerau
Hayes, John National Party, Wairarapa
Heatley, Phil National Party, Whangarei
Henare, Tau National Party, List
Hipkins, Chris Labour Party, Rimutaka
Horan, Brendan Independent, List
Hughes, Gareth Green Party, List
Huo, Raymond Labour Party, List
Hutchison, Paul National Party, Hunua
Jones, Shane Labour Party, List
Joyce, Steven National Party, List
Kaye, Nikki National Party, Auckland Central
Key, John National Party, Helensville
King, Annette Labour Party, Rongotai
King, Colin National Party, Kaikoura
Lee, Melissa National Party, List
Lees-Galloway, Iain Labour Party, Palmerston North
Little, Andrew Labour Party, List
Logie, Jan Green Party, List
Lole-Taylor, Asenati NZ First, List
Lotu-Iiga, Peseta Sam National Party, Maungakiekie
Macindoe, Tim National Party, Hamilton West
Mackey, Moana Labour Party, List
Mahuta, Nanaia Labour Party, Hauraki-Waikato
Mallard, Trevor Labour Party, Hutt South
Martin, Tracey NZ First, List
Mathers, Mojo Green Party, List
McClay, Todd National Party, Rotorua
McCully, Murray National Party, East Coast Bays
McKelvie, Ian National Party, Rangitikei
Mitchell, Mark National Party, Rodney
Moroney, Sue Labour Party, List
Ngaro, Alfred National Party, List
Norman, Russel Green Party, List
O’Connor, Damien Labour Party, West Coast-Tasman
O’Connor, Simon National Party, Tamaki
O’Rourke, Denis NZ First, List
Parata, Hekia National Party, List
Parker, David Labour Party, List
Peters, Winston NZ First, List
Prasad, Rajen Labour Party, List
Prosser, Richard NZ First, List
Robertson, Grant Labour Party, Wellington Central
Robertson, Ross Labour Party, Manukau East
Roche, Denise Green Party, List
Ross, Jami-Lee National Party, Botany
Roy, Eric National Party, Invercargill
Ryall, Tony National Party, Bay of Plenty
Sabin, Mike National Party, Northland
Sage, Eugenie Green Party, List
Shanks, Katrina National Party, List
Sharples, Pita Maori Party, Tamaki Makaurau
Shearer, David Labour Party, Mt Albert
Simpson, Scott National Party, Coromandel
Sio, Su’a William Labour Party, Mangere
Smith, Nick National Party, Nelson
Stewart, Barbara NZ First, List
Street, Maryan Labour Party, List
Tirikatene, Rino Labour Party, Te Tai Tonga
Tisch, Lindsay National Party, Waikato
Tolley, Anne National Party, East Coast
Tremain, Chris National Party, Napier
Turei, Metiria Green Party, List
Turia, Tariana Maori Party, Te Tai Hauauru
Twyford, Phil Labour Party, Te Atatu
Upston, Louise National Party, Taupo
Wagner, Nicky National Party, Christchurch Central
Walker, Holly Green Party, List
Wall, Louisa Labour Party, Manurewa
Wilkinson, Kate National Party, Waimakariri
Williams, Andrew NZ First, List
Williamson, Maurice National Party, Pakuranga
Woodhouse, Michael National Party, List
Woods, Megan Labour Party, Wigram
Yang, Jian National Party, List
Young, Jonathan National Party, New Plymouth

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I leave the final word to Bryan, from his Facebook page,

OK, let’s get some things straight about providing free healthy meals in schools.

1. First of all let’s decide on the principle before arguing about the detail.

Let’s admit there is a significant problem of children turning up to school hungry and that a lot of kids are eating low cost foods that contain a lot of sugar and fat , causing obesity , diabetes and long term health problems.

And at least get the Feed The Kids Bill to Parliamentary Select Committee. You can argue all you want about how it should be funded or what’s going to be on the menu there.

If you don’t think we have a community responsibility to feed children and/or educate their palates to healthy eating habits – then read no further it will only make you angry.

2. It doesn’t fill a hungry kids tummy to point at their parents and shout “Your problem is you have bad parents”. This page takes the view that kids don’t get to choose their parents and we have a community responsibility to ALL our kids to make sure they grow up healthy. And if that means feeding them for free- then that’s what we do.

3. No one is going to force feed any child food they don’t want to eat or is culturally inappropriate. If you watch the video below which I filmed in Sweden for the documentary you will see children from multi -cultural backgrounds CHOOSING their food. And Yes children with allergies are catered for and Yes children can still bring their own lunch prepared by the parents .

4.Free healthy school meals can be paid for without raising taxes. We just choose to re-distribute the existing pool of tax payer money and give up on some other things. Here are some suggestions, I’m sure you can think of other ways we could spend smarter.

(a) We could fund school meals out of the Health vote rather than the Education vote. In a document released under the Official Information Act I revealed that children under 14 receive 10% of the money set aside for health care. But children under 14 represent 20% of our population. So we could fund some of it – if not all of it – by giving kids their fair share.

(b )It is a well accepted health statistic that for every $1 we spend on preventing disease we save $4 in expensive hospital cure. So within a few years the scheme will fund itself out of what we save. If we DON’T do it, taxpayers will be spending much more than they are now on the Health budget in the future.

(c) We could make children a spending priority. National plans to spend a billion a year on Roads of National Significance over the next 10 years. What about Children? – aren’t they of National Significance? I’d much rather feed our kids than be able to by – pass small towns while driving to Auckland .

(d) We could pay the pension to people when they actually stop working and not just because they reach 65.

(e) We could spend more energy making sure people paid their taxes . Last year the IRD detected about a Billion dollars worth of tax evasion mostly by businesses. It’s estimated that the real tax evasion in NZ is between 4 and 5 Billion.


If you pay PAYE you can’t cheat your taxes. So we could easily pay for free school meals if more adults played fair.

Let’s impose greater penalties for tax evasion, and let’s stop thinking of tax as a bad thing. Tax is a good thing – it’s giving to ourselves. That’s how we can have schools and hospitals and yes even Roads Of National significance. Tax is the price of civilisation. Get over it.

Now whether you agree with some of the above, all of the above or none of the above , let’s at least agree that The Feed The Kids Bill should at least go to Select Committee after its First Reading so the issue can be properly debated.

Please contact your local MP today and urge them to support the Feed The Kids Bill.

You can find their contact details here, just click on their name :

http://www.parliament.nz/en-NZ/MPP/MPs/MPs

Thank you,
Bryan

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 10 May 2013.

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Acknowledgement

My sincerest appreciation and thanks go  to Bryan Bruce, Mike Fackney, and  Ruth O’Neill for taking time out of their busy schedules to respond to my questions.

Other Blog Posts

The Daily Blog: Hungry Kids Annoy Frazzled Lobby Group Director

References

NZ Herald: Food parcel families made poor choices, says Key (17 Feb 2011)

Scoop: Government Policy Impacting Child Poverty Levels   (30 May 2012)

NZ Herald: Poverty not only reason for suicide spike, says Key (30 Oct 2012)

Fairfax Media: Time for a chat on food in schools (7 May 2013)

Additional

Mana Party: Feed the Kids #fact sheet

Feed The Kids

Facebook: Community Campaign for Food in Schools – NZ

Ten Myths About Welfare

The Children’s Social Health Monitor: Child Poverty and Living Standards

Other blogposts

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

And from the nasty side of Conservative Rightwing politics

“Family First’: Food In Schools Will Feed The Problem

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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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