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Hone Harawira: Feed the Kids Bill

Press Release

MANA Leader and MP for Te Tai Tokerau Hone Harawira

General Debate Speech

Feed the Kids Bill

Wednesday 14th November

Mr Speaker, three months ago the Children’s Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty released their report in which they said “Children living in poverty are those who experience deprivation of the material resources and income required for them to develop and thrive, leaving such children unable to enjoy their rights, achieve their potential and participate as full and equal members of NZ society”.

They then went on to say:
> that if we used the poverty measure adopted by other developed countries (families earning less than 60% of median income after housing costs have been deducted) then 25% or 270,000 New Zealand children could for all practical purposes be said to be living in poverty with many experiencing significant material deprivation;
§ >that poverty rates for Māori and PI kids are twice as high as for Pākehā kids;
§ >that Māori and PI kids are twice as likely to be living in severe and persistent poverty;
§ >that child poverty rates in NZ are twice as high as they were 30 years ago.

Mr Speaker, while we may choose to differ in the way in which we measure poverty, I think that if any one of us in this house were to sit back and give full and proper consideration to what the priorities of a good and decent society might be, the wellbeing of children would surely rank at the top … or very close to the top.

And that Mr Speaker, this is where I’d like to think my Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill fits, because what it is, is simply a proposal to make sure that kids in our poorest schools get something to eat every day through the provision of fully funded, nutritional breakfasts and lunches in all decile 1 and 2 schools in Aotearoa.

Now I hear that some social commentators like to talk about child poverty as if it were caused by poor parental choice, bad morals and poor work ethic, but there is little hard evidence that poor people mismanage their income any more than those who are better off.

In fact research shows that the main causes of poverty lie elsewhere – the lack of jobs, low income, inadequate, overcrowded and high cost housing, poorly targeted welfare, racism in the labour market, lack of education, poor health, institutional racism in the judicial system etc …

What we do know is that local and international evidence confirms that food-in-schools programmes improve a child’s educational outcomes, school attendance and classroom behaviour.

We know that in 2011, based on analysis of data and experiences of national and international food-in-school initiatives, the Child Poverty Action Group recommended the introduction of healthy meals in all decile 1 and 2 schools in Aotearoa.

We know that in 2012, the Children’s Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty called on government to provide a national strategy for food in Early Childhood Education centres and schools in low-decile neighbourhoods.

And we know that the high number of decile 1 and 2 schools providing food to students is clear evidence of a pressing need for food to be made available on a sustained and secure basis and that food-in-schools programmes should not have to rely solely on charity and volunteers because depending on charity, particularly in difficult economic times, is risky and uncertain, as the termination of the Red Cross programme shows.

Mr Speaker I applaud the efforts of all those schools, businesses, charities and health promotion agencies for their support of food-in-schools as a positive, practical and simple step to helping to eliminate poverty.

I am grateful for the broad support that I have received since putting the bill in the ballot back in August, I welcome the indications of support from other parties in the house for such an initiative, I thank Campbell Live for the excellent series they did on food-in-schools, and I look forward to working with my colleagues across the House to make this bill a reality when it finally comes to parliament.


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