The Press on food in schools

The Press editorial:

The idea of providing breakfast and lunch for poor children in schools has a superficial appeal.

The thought that any child should be going to school hungry is an appalling one, particularly for a country that is not only relatively prosperous but is abundant in food, which it aspires to the rest of the world.

Common sense tells us that hungry children are restive and distracted. It is well known that hunger is a powerful disincentive to concentration and learning and that hungry children do measurably less well in class.

All this explains to some degree why the proposal in Hone Harawira’s Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes) in Schools Amendment Bill to provide fully state-funded breakfast and lunch programmes into all decile 1 and 2 schools in New Zealand has attracted some support.

The bill has still to be considered by the House but a new coalition of 24 church, union and community groups is lobbying hard for it.

After we have the state take over providing breakfasts for children, why not lunches and dinners also?

But while there may be a problem with undernourished children in schools, a programme to provide food for them there is not the answer to it.

Harawira has estimated that his proposal to provide free breakfast and lunch to children in decile 1 and 2 schools would cost $100 million. That money could be better spent on programmes that get to the root of the problem.

Maybe on more social workers going into households where kids are being sent to school hungry? I suspect in the majority (not all) of cases, the issue will be lack of parenting skills or the household income being spent on other priorities. Remember we already provide billions of dollars in welfare benefits to parents of children – to pay for the necessities of life for their children.

But the main difficulty with Harawira’s idea is that it tackles the issue from the wrong end. Hungry children in school are a just symptom of a root cause – inadequate, negligent parenting and decision-making.

For the state to take over providing something as fundamental as proper meals will, if anything, only aggravate that root cause.

The more dud parents become aware that their children will be fed if they fail to do so, the more they will be inclined to abdicate the responsibility.

The editorial is absolutely correct about addressing the problem, not the symptom.

Providing a decent breakfast and lunch for a child is hardly an onerous or expensive task. Eggs on toast or cereal for breakfast, and sandwiches with a nourishing filling for lunch, are within the capacity of every parent.

Given the level of State support for those with low incomes, or no income at all, there can be no valid excuse for any parent sending a child to school without breakfast and proper food for lunch.

I agree. Breakfasts are not hugely expensive. Cereal and milk costs around 70c a day. Eggs on toast is around 60 c a day.

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