Free school lunches will feed the problem

Stuff 5 October 2019
Family First Comment: In the Southland Times today…

OPINION: While lunch in school programmes sound great, they will simply exacerbate the problem, provide a short term bandage, but ignore the underlying causes and how they must be resolved.

A child whose parents cannot even provide two pieces of toast in the morning or a bowl of porridge, or cannot provide a basic lunch highlights a number of real concerns.

Firstly, if the children aren’t being fed on schooldays, how do we know that they are receiving meals at night or during the weekend, or during the 12 weeks of school holidays?

As well as that, the level of neglect may be far greater than just providing meals.

Secondly, there is a welfare system in New Zealand. Every home has a source of income.

The important question is – what is the money being spent on, and is that appropriate?

Are they receiving their correct entitlement?

And in the case of welfare payments, will food vouchers solve part of the problem?

State-funded lunches are a short-term bandage for a much more serious and longer-term problem. It also creates a dependence on a service which may not always be able to be provided.

The US Department of Agriculture conducted a large experiment with school breakfast programs in public schools from 1999 to 2003. Despite the increase in breakfast consumption, the study found no positive impact on test scores, behaviour, attendance rates or child health, and some evidence of negative impacts.

There was some evidence that it may improve behaviour and health in some highly disadvantaged subgroups, though.

The authors said that the increase in participation resulted largely from students who merely substituted school breakfasts for those they were already getting at home – and that a certain percentage of the increase in participation was from some children eating two breakfasts.

Yendarra School, a decile 1 school in Otara, South Auckland has previously said ‘no’ to government food handouts.

Instead, Yendarra has worked hard with their families to develop a school culture that values good nutrition, encouraging lunches from home with fruit, vegetables, and sandwiches.

The best investment by the government would be to provide budgeting advice and support for families who are struggling, including education on healthy eating and cooking skills, and should stop procrastinating around protecting vulnerable families from loan sharks.

The targeting of alcohol outlets and pokie machines in lower decile areas should also be dealt with.

Bob McCoskrie  is the national director of Family First NZ

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