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Government's free lunch for some schools scheme doesn't go far enough, critics say

The launch of free lunches at some New Zealand schools has been welcomed and called "well-meaning", but it does not go far enough, critics say. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the announcement today, with free lunches at 30 schools for Year 1-8 students beginning in 2020, looking to extend to 120 primary and intermediate schools by 2021.

KidsCan chief executive and founder Julie Chapman said it was "a great step in the right direction by the Government, and good news for the primary and intermediate school children that this fund targets". 

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It is starting in 30 schools, and is set to expand. Source: 1 NEWS

"We see every day the difference that providing food at school makes to children in hardship, but there's so much more to do.

Ms Chapman said KidsCan, that provides food, clothes and hygiene products to hundreds of schools, "can't keep up with demand". 

"We still have 38 schools and more than 100 early childhood centres waiting for help. This Government fund is absolutely needed, but the job isn't done."

National's Education spokesperson Nikki Kaye said the scheme was well-meaning, but children in early learning centres (ECE) and high schools that needed lunch would be left out. 

"Some schools may choose to feed all of their children but many schools acknowledge not all children need food.

Nikki Kaye. Source: 1 NEWS

"The intention of this universal policy is to reduce social stigma for children but it ignores the fact that many schools have developed approaches to ensure children are provided a free lunch in a sensitive and confidential way."

Ms Kaye said the funding could be used "more effectively" by working with organisations that already provide food in school, to also reach children in high schools and ECEs.

"The Government’s approach has failed to consider that most schools do not have the infrastructure such as kitchens for large scale food preparation and storage. The scheme is designed with maximum work for the school unlike the majority of other successful schemes operating now."

Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) welcomed the scheme, but said limited targeting would not address the core issue of poverty. 

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft said he looked forward "to the day when free lunches are provided to all New Zealand children". 

"We know one in five children experience food insecurity which has a very detrimental effect on their wellbeing and ability to focus on learning while at school."

Ricardo Menendez March said while AAAP supported the move "towards free lunches for kids, we are concerned that the Government continues leaving their parents in poverty".

"The Government can afford to ensure every kid in Aotearoa has food in school and parents receive enough each week to get by, but it is held back by their Budget Responsibly Rules which limits spending and debt intake.

"We are calling on the Government to be brave and serious about ending poverty by universalising the provision of free lunches in school and increase core benefit levels. The current approaches to end poverty won't address the chronic underfunding of our public services and welfare system."

The Prime Minister said children had relayed during the consultation that going to school hungry was a barrier to their learning. 

"That was heart-breaking to hear and this prototype starts to ensure children are fed and have the best chance to succeed."

"You simply can’t learn distracted by an empty stomach."

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The scheme kicks off in 30 schools next year. Source: 1 NEWS