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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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Kiwi Hero: Jazmine Heka

15 January 2012 5 comments

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or,  good women!

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One thing that I find about writing this Blog, is reporting on all the unpleasant things that are happening in our country; our communities; at this very moment. Whether it’s high unemployment; pollution in our rivers and coastline; constant attacks on welfare beneficiaries; racism; cutbacks in our social services; the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor; a rather nasty anti-union campaign on Auckland’s waterfront… after a while, I can fully understand why 100,000 of my fellow New Zealanders shipped off to Australia.

Half the time I wonder why I’m still here.

Nah, I ain’t going anywhere. It’s too hot over there; they have snakes; crocodiles; spiders the size of a small car; dinosaurs, mutant kangaroos, and god knows what else. Plus, they speak funny. (It’d take too long to teach our Aussie cuzzies  how to speak proper English – like we Kiwis do.)

Anyway, every so often, there is a ray of sunshine that pokes through the gloom of bad  news. Like this one, the story of Ms Jazmine Heka. She’s 16 years old. And she has more compassion and wisdom than half the adult population in this country. She certainly shows greater awareness than our current batch of political leaders.

Because Jazmine Heka, at age 16, and when other young women her age are out flirting with post-adolescent boys with acne and over-powered cars, is different.

Jazmine Heka cares.

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Full Story

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Full Story

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Jazmine watched Bryan Bruce’s document, Inside Child Poverty – and came away disgusted; angry; and confused as to how something like this could be happening in our own country. And well she might; New Zealand was supposedly a wealthy country with an abundance of food and resources.

What has gone so terribly wrong?

Jazmine’s response to the documentary was perfectly normal. Any sane, compassionate,  person would have viewed Bruce’s documentary about our crisis in poverty, with similar feelings of outrage and disgust.

Those that viewed it – and simply shrugged it off  – did so because they have become inured to life’s hardships and uncertainties. For many of us, poverty and other social ills have become a normal aspect to everyday life. For many well-off, middle-class folk, poverty is “somewhere over there” and “beyond our ability to deal with“.

For many of us, we have “normalised” poverty; inequality; poor housing; lack of food; lack of adequate incomes; and lack of hope.

Those living in poverty live the same “train wreck” of their lives; day-after-day; week-after-week; their families; their community – and no hope of ever getting out. For these families, a life of poverty is also “normalised“.It’s all they’ve had and all they are likely to ever have.

Meanwhile,  products and images of products of a wealthy, consumerist society is all around these poverty-trapped families.

Eventually, those who suffer such hardship cannot cope any further with the constant stresses,  of their dismal lives. Some cease to care. Others lose themselves in anger, fueled by cheap, plentiful alcohol and drugs. Brutalised beyond any measure of comprehension by Middle New Zealand, they commit acts of self-harm and violence to others that the rest of us find inexplicable.

Try to explain to Middle New Zealand why a bunch of young people would torment an infant until it died from it’s injuries and internal bleeding – and you’d get a blank look.

Or, most likely, it is blamed upon the parent(s) and immediate family for abusing to death their child. Only then do we, as a society,  take an interest in that family, as they are put through the Court system; paraded on our television “news” each night; and we shake our collective heads in dismay and wonder what kind of “animal” kills it’s own young.

A stressed, abused, mal-treated “animal” – that’s what kind.

When things go terribly bad in poverty-stressed families, it is not the start of a crisis – it is the end-result; a culmination, of years of living in squalid conditions that few of us have ever experienced.

That is poverty. Or, at least, a visible part of it.

Most families, of course, don’t end up killing or bashing their children. As Jazmine quoted, 22% of children in New Zealand live in poverty. And most families do the best they can, with limited money, and constant demands for that money; rent, electricity, food, medical bills, school costs, transport…

Most families  survive. Even our Prime Minister grew up as a child to a solo-mother in  State House. Of course,  John Key not only had a state house over his head, but had the benefit of a free, tax-payer funded tertiary education.

That’s right folks. Mr Key went to University prior to 1992, before student fees were introduced. He may even have had access to a student allowanvce that was commonly accessible those  days. And his mother didn’t have to pay for prescription medicines – those were free, before Rogernomics came into play.

State house. Free education. Free prescription medicines.

That was all replaced with User Pays. National sold off about 13,000 state houses in the 1990s. And medical care became more and more expensive.

At the same time, taxes were cut seven times since 1986; gst was introduced; and User Pays and higher government charges made living more and more expensive for those on low incomes.

As the economy was de-regulated in the late 1980s, factories that had once employed locals to produce locally made goods closed down – and instead we had them produced and imported from China, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Fiji, and other low-wage economies.

That’s called “exporting jobs”.

In return, we got cheap shoes from China – and growing poverty in New Zealand. Most unfair of all, it is children growing up in poor families that bear the brunt of our 27 year old free market economy.

Though that’s not to say there haven’t been success stories. For a few, anyway,

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Full Story

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It’s not hard to see who benefitted most from seven tax cuts in the last 26 years.

In turn, Fonterra plans to re-introduce milk in low-decile schools – something not seen in New Zealand since 1967. A return to school milk seems indicative where we have arrived as a nation: full circle since 1937, when free milk was first introduced in schools throughout the country to fight poverty’s effects on children.

And here we are – back again.

Even National was promising something similar,  in  February 2007, when John Key was Leader of the Opposition. Perhaps this was a political “stunt” – who knows,

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Full Story

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But it’s even more of a harsh reality now.

I’ve even emailed John Key, to ascertain what happened, to his “Food in Schools” programme,

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from:    [email]
to:    Prime Minister John Key <john.key@parliament.govt.nz>
date:    Wed, Jan 11, 2012 at 9:16 AM
subject:    National launches its Food in Schools programme

Sir,

On 4 February 2007, you released a Press Release headed, “National launches its Food in Schools programme”.

As outlined in Bryan Bruce’s document, “Child Poverty”, there is a growing problem of poorly fed, malnourished children in NZ.  Could you please advise what progress your government has made in the area of providing meals for children in low-decile schools?

This issue is a critical one. Poorly fed children do not do well in the classroom, and this results in difficulties further along in their lives, including social dislocation; poor education;  unemployment; and more expensive interaction with government services.

Thankyou for your time,

-Frank Macskasy
 Blogger, “Frankly Speaking

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I’ve received an acknowledgement and that the email was passed on to Education Minister Hekia Parata. But nothing further.

This, to me, is why it is so important that good men and women like Bryan Bruce, Jazmine Heka, KidscanChild Poverty Action Group, etc,  raise our consciousness on these matters. These problems will not go away by themselves. They must be resolved with planning, determination, and  money.

But more importantly, Bryan Bruce and Jazmine Heka need our collective voices to aid them, and to back them up. Bryan and Jazmine and many others are working to fix a problem that should never have been allowed to grow and fester. But it’s here now, and we have to deal with it.

As Judy Callingham wrote on Brian Edwards’ blog,

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The government has prioritised a number of policies to stimulate the economy in an effort to get us out of the current recession. None of these policies, to my mind, tackles head-on the most urgent task of all – eliminating ‘child poverty’.

This should be the number one priority. Nothing is more important. Nothing is going to stimulate the economy better in the long run than having our kids grow up healthy and well educated.  It’s a damn sight more important than ultra-fast broadband and super-highways.”

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Or Jacqui, a mother in Otangarei,

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I think it’s amazing what you’re doing. A lot of our people are disheartened, they’ve given up. The standard of living of people in New Zealand is shocking, people are struggling. It’s something the government needed to address a long time ago. If adults say it they think we’re just complaining, or it’s our own inadequacies. Her voice will get through, that’s the cool thing.

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Last year, the combined raised voices of Wellingtonians stopped the Wellington Airport from erecting a silly sign on the Miramar hillside. (Instead, they erected a marginally less-silly sign.)

And the year before that, in 2010, the collective anger of New Zealanders stopped the National government dead-in-its-tracks to mine on Schedule 4 Conservation lands.

I believe that with the same support for Bryan, Jazmine, and other community groups fighting poverty, that this government can be made to pay attention to this problem.

I believe that, acting together, there is no reason  why we cannot achieve our common goal of beginning to solve this growing crisis in our communities. None whatsoever.

So let’s help Jazmine to help New Zealand.

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Additional

National launches its Food in Schools programme (4 February 2007)

Milk and Honey off the menu

Jazmine Heka – Hero of the Week

Radio NZ: Teenage child poverty activist (31 January 2012)

Contact Jazmine

Email: childrenagainstpoverty@hotmail.co.nz

Facebook: Children-Against-Poverty

Snailmail: PO Box 585, Whangarei 0140.

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Contrasts…

3 August 2011 3 comments

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If anyone is still under the cherished illusion that New Zealand is any longer the egalitarian society that our forebears worked hard to create… then those folk are not paying attention.

When the richest man is worth $6.5 billion – one billion more than last year – whilst schools in low socio-economic areas are having to re-introduce school milk, one needs to ask;  “what is wrong with this picture?”.

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At The ‘Coal Face’…

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For those of us with a good memory, we may recall the late 1990s, and the worsening gap between the highest 10% of income earners, and those near the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. We may recall the social services that had been wound back; low taxes for the rich; and worsening social indicators at almost every level.

On 3 April 1998, Southland dairy farmer Colin Morrison (42) died on a waiting list, awaiting a triple heart bypass surgery. In death, Mr Morrison symbolised everything that was terribly wrong with the health system in the late 1990s.  Public anger mounted as an unpopular government seemed unable to respond to concerns that our public services were being run down in the name of “efficiency”.

Little wonder that there was a 11.55% swing toward Labour in the 1999 General election – the electorate had had a gutsful of neoliberal policies resulting in growing inequality and social problems that seemingly went unheeded.

We are moving along that road, once again.

The question is; will we have to have for another term of National/ACT before New Zealanders once again tire of neoliberal policies that promise so much – and deliver so little?

– Thursday, 28 July 2011

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Additional

Widow says little improvement seem

GP hits out at health reforms

Died waiting for by-pass

Word today on heart list

Anger on heart op delay

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