The Prime Minister’s recent announcement that around 120 primary schools will get access to universal free lunches is well-meaning but the programme is not well thought out and lacks detail.
For example, most schools do not have the infrastructure such as kitchens for large scale food preparation and storage. There is minimal funding in this scheme for equipment and the scheme is designed with maximum work for the school unlike the majority of other successful schemes operating now.
The previous National-led Government invested in the successful Kickstart programme which partners with Sanitarium and Fonterra to provide breakfast clubs to all schools who want to participate regardless of decile. This programme reaches around 30,000 children in more than 1,000 schools. We also provided funding for the fruit in schools programme and KidsCan.
Our approach was based on schools determining their need, rather than a one size fits all approach. Some schools may choose to feed all of their children but many schools acknowledge that not all children want or need this. The success and low cost of the programme we delivered is due to its work with partners who leverage existing infrastructure, suppliers and food distribution networks.
By working with organisations already running these programmes, the Government could use its funding more effectively to reach the tens of thousands of children in high schools and early childhood centres who will miss out under this new scheme.
Most troublingly there is no apparent plan to address the fact that seven out of nine child poverty indicators have worsened under the current Government.
While we believe it is the responsibility of parents to feed their children, my colleagues and I would support more investment in targeted support to ensure children in hardship get access to nutritious food. If this is the beginning of a universal free lunch programme for all schools, this would cost hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money and take away the autonomy of parents to provide a lunch of their choice for their children.