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Opening Speech in Debate of the Feed the Kids Bill

Opening Speech in the First Reading Debate of the Feed the Kids Bill


Hone Harawira - MANA Leader and Te Tai Tokerau Member of Parliament
Wednesday 28 May 2014

Tēnā koe Mr Speaker

Mr Speaker, I move that the Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill be now read a first time.

I nominate the Māori Affairs Committee to consider the bill.

Mr Speaker, Nelson Mandela once said that “there can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children” and if I could add a comment, it would be “and blaming those too vulnerable to care for themselves and their children, speaks more about our selfishness than it does about the hopelessness of poverty.”

Mr Speaker, back in April last year I was part of a big MANA Feed the Kids gig where we fed more than 1,500 kids up in Otara. They had heaps of fun and when they left they all took a lunch away, happily chanting “Feed the Kids”, and I thought to myself – these kids get it, their whanau get it, their teachers get it, and I sincerely hope enough of us get it too, because Treasury itself has told us there are now 285,000 kids living in poverty in Aotearoa, 100,000 of whom go to school hungry every day.

Yes, it’s nice to know that KidsCan feeds some 10,000 of them most days and that the KickStart programme feeds about 12,000 a day, but the reality is that even with government’s announcement in last year’s Budget, nearly 80,000 children are still going to school hungry in Aotearoa, every single day.

And yes, schools around the country have started their own breakfast clubs with support from teachers, students, parents, local businesses and the wider community - but they tell us that it takes a lot of hard work, and a lot of goodwill to keep it going, and that having secure funding would be a godsend.

And the really embarrassing thing is that nearly every country in the OECD, apart from us, already runs programmes to feed kids at school.

Some, like Finland and Sweden provide fully state-funded meals to every school student as part of a wider framework of child wellbeing – a commitment that sees them regularly top the international surveys in child health and educational achievement.

Some provide free meals to kids with parents on low incomes and others provide free meals to schools in areas of high deprivation, but while the approaches differ, they all share the same view - backed up by the same kind of research and information from teachers, doctors, nurses and policy analysts, that is available to us here - that kids need a good feed every day if they are to develop into healthy, and well educated adults.

Mr Speaker, New Zealand really needs to join the rest of the enlightened world and make a commitment to feeding our kids, starting with those in greatest need, to help them to grow well and learn well.

Groups like the Child Poverty Action Group have long advocated for government-funded food in schools programmes as a simple and cheap step to reducing poverty.

The report of the Children’s Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty, released a year and a half ago now, did not recommend throwing in a few dollars only if the corporates gave some as this government has proposed - no - they recommended that “government should develop and implement a government-funded food in schools programme” and that “government has a responsibility to provide leadership and resources, to assist schools through a national strategy for food in Early Childhood Centres and schools in low decile neighbourhoods.”

Mr Speaker - I have been humbled by the positive responses to MANA’s Feed the Kids Bill from a whole host of child, family, health, education, and faith organisations all around the country, who helped raise awareness about just how many of our kids are going to school hungry in Aotearoa, and what we should be doing about it.

They have worked hard to remind us all that the crisis of child hunger and its devastating effects on brain development, health and learning means we need to urgently focus on feeding the kids rather than blaming the parents; that poverty has doubled in the last 25 years and children are its greatest victim; and that poverty won’t go away without big changes in employment, wages, housing and support for families in need.

Mr Speaker - things have changed a lot from when everyone was scoffing at MANA for even talking about Feeding the Kids during Election 2011, to a TV poll last year that showed 70% of Kiwis support a government-funded food in schools programme; and to food in schools being the only policy issue to make the top 10 news stories in 2013.

And much of that awareness has come about as a result of the excellent work and commitment of the Community Coalition for Food in Schools – which now has 30 members – and in particular, the efforts of Deborah Morris-Travers, former CEO of Every Child Counts and now Advocacy Manager for UNICEF NZ.

Mr Speaker, the Children’s Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group said that child poverty doesn’t just impact on children and their families – it costs all of us, a lot. In fact, it’s estimated that child poverty costs New Zealanders $6-8 billion a year - in health, justice system costs, and in lost productivity and a lower tax take - and yet we continue to be one of the worst performers in the OECD on child wellbeing.

Our rates of preventable diseases like rheumatic fever are high, we have lower educational achievement than in other developed countries, and yet we’ll happily spend nearly $1.5 billion a year on prisons to feed one of the highest incarceration rates in the world.

Unemployment is the highest it’s been for nearly 15 years, nearly half of all young Māori and PI are without work and are not in education or training, and the other half are getting ready to go to Aussie.

Feeding the Kids won’t solve all these problems – but it is real, it is affordable, it is something we can do right now, and we know that it will help our kids grow up to be better, healthier contributors to society.

We’ve costed the Bill to allow for a co-ordinator in each school to oversee the provision of breakfast and lunch in all decile 1-2 schools in Aotearoa; feeding more than 100,000 kids in our poorest communities; and using existing programmes like KidsCan and KickStart or working through other local initiatives.

With very few exceptions schools have supported the Feed the Kids kaupapa because they know they’ll get more bang for their educational buck - kids will turn up to school on time, they’ll be settled and not disruptive, and they’ll be ready to learn.

And while I’m at it I’d also like to thank all the secondary and tertiary students who backed this bill, because when young people say that hunger is their number one priority, and that food in schools is the best solution to it, then that says it all.

Mr Speaker - I know the bill isn’t perfect; I hear the korero about feeding the kids being a parent’s responsibility, but the truth is that a lot of people have been so poor, for so long, that they struggle to make the right choices and often end up making the wrong ones. And all the while our kids go hungry …

And I’ve heard a lot about increasing employment opportunities, and upgrading housing, and improving access to health and developing better educational pathways … and all of that is necessary and good, but it takes a long time to happen. And all the while our kids go hungry …

And every other proposal I’ve heard from the Child Poverty Action Group, the Children’s Commissioner, health promotion agencies and advisory groups all the way up to the World Health Organisation’s Report on Child Health, makes a lot of sense to me.

But all I want to do with this bill is make sure that as we work through all these other critical and important initiatives, our kids are getting fed.

Mr Speaker - I welcome the calls to extend the Bill to include the Kohanga and ECE sector and decile 3-4 schools, and to allow those involved in school and community gardens to make a contribution to this discussion too, because this is an exercise that will require the efforts of the whole community, and I urge the House to vote this bill through at first reading so that the Maori Affairs select committee can call for submissions from those who know best, and those who care most, in order that we can develop a robust food-in-schools programme that enhances the well-being of our children, and enhances the future prospects of our society.

Tēna tatou katoa e te whare

ends

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