General policy statement
New Zealand is a more unequal society now than it has ever been and rising child poverty is a sad reality. We now have 270 000 children in poverty and 40% of them come from the homes of working families.
Unfortunately, that means that when it comes to education all kids do not start at the same place. Ministry of Health estimates suggest that as many as 80 000 students turn up to school each week without having had breakfast. Charities are already providing over 40 000 schoolchildren with food each week, but it is clear the need is much greater than this.
There is substantive evidence from New Zealand and around the world that hunger has a significant impact on children’s cognitive development, learning, and classroom behaviour. A 2005 study by New Zealand researchers Quigley and Watts Ltd concluded that a significant number of New Zealand children’s diets were so poor that their brain functioning was affected.
If kids turn up to school not having eaten breakfast, without shoes, or sick because their house is cold and damp, it is obvious they will not get the best start. Addressing this problem is one of the most important actions we can take to lift New Zealand’s educational achievement.
To address this issue the Government needs to be more hands-on, partnering with communities and voluntary organisations to put free food in all primary and intermediate schools that want and need it.
This Bill is intended to be permissive rather than prescriptive. It provides for schools to be eligible for assistance from designated food in school providers on the basis of indicators of need that the Ministry will be responsible for specifying.
The intent of the Bill is to provide for a legislative basis for making food in schools available to all decile 1 to 3 primary and intermediate schools, but the Bill leaves it open for the eligibility to be subsequently widened as funding permits.