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Trial of free school lunch scheme splits opinion

NZEI Te Riu Roa President Lynda Stuart said teachers and school staff see first hand the effects of poverty in Aotearoa, and the free lunch trial announced by the government is a step in the right direction.

“Teachers know that hungry kids simply can’t learn. Feeding hungry kids at school is a simple but powerful way that we as a society can counteract our shameful child poverty rate,” she says. “We look forward to working with the government to ensure the trial is a success.”

The trial will provide free lunch for 30 schools in order to reduce child poverty, hoping to expand to 120 schools by 2021. Auckland Action Against Poverty also welcomed the move towards the provision of free lunches for kids but warned that the limited targeting of the scheme and low benefit levels wouldn’t address core issues of food deprivation and poverty.

“The Government can’t address child poverty without fixing adult poverty. While we support the move towards free lunches for kids, we are concerned that the Government continues leaving their parents in poverty,” said Ricardo Menendez March, Auckland Action Against Poverty Coordinator.

“In order to put a dent on the record number of food grants by Work and Income the provision of free lunches need to be universal. If the Government wants to lift families out of poverty they need to address below the poverty benefit levels and lift them by at least 47% as recommended by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group.

“Hardship grants have almost doubled from June last year. In the quarter of June 2019 there were 229,132 food grants needed by families across Aotearoa, compared to 137,424 last year. This is a direct result of increased levels of food poverty in Aotearoa. Work and Income has not changed its policy around food grant entitlements, while rent prices and the cost of living across the country continue to rise.

Stuart added that while a free lunch scheme will help to alleviate an immediate symptom of poverty, the bigger challenge is fixing the underlying causes.

“Ultimately more needs to be done to increase the incomes of families struggling to make ends meet. We look forward to hearing more from the government on concrete measures – such as fair pay agreements – that will help achieve this,” Stuart says.

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