Limitoo News

Demand for help would 'go through the roof' if free school lunches dropped

Henry Hill School children tucking into a free school lunch provided through the Ka Ora, Ka Ako Healthy School Lunches Programme
Photo: Supplied/ Ministry of Education

Advocates are horrified by revelations that Treasury does not support a government-funded free school lunch scheme.

A budget document revealed that Treasury was uncertainty whether Ka Ora, Ka Ako represented value for money because it had no effect on attendance and provided little benefit for Māori students.

Education Minister Jan Tinetti wanted to make the scheme a permanent fixture, but it has only been funded up until the end of 2024.

Kidscan chief executive Julie Chapman said she was not surprised that a free lunch scheme was not increasing the number of children turning up to school.

She said if that was the measurement they were looking for, they were always going to be disappointed.

"We know through our partnerships with schools that parents are rationing petrol, they're rationing food [...] you have students that are going out to work to try and support their families," she said.

"I think it would be really naive to think that providing a lunch would be the panacea to improving attendance."

The scheme made a huge impact in terms of alleviating hunger, feeding over 200,000 hungry kids everyday, she said.

She would be concerned if the program was dropped.

"If that program were to be scrapped, the demand for our support would absolutely go through the roof, and we struggle to keep up right now with the amount of food that schools need from us."

They just would not be able to meet that demand, she said.

Commissioner for Children Judge Frances Eivers said she found Treasury's stance surprising.

"It's hard to believe that there are not positive outcomes for our children from having a program at school for luncheons," Eivers said.

"If our children are well fed, if they're going to school, if they're getting an education, if we look to the future, surely that's going to have better outcomes for us as as a country further on down the track."

She wanted Treasury to put the welfare of children at the centre of its decision making rather than fiscal imperatives.

"Our children are taonga, a treasure, we need to treat them like that," she said.

Auckland University Professor and Health Coalition Aotearoa chair Boyd Swinburn was part of a recent study into Ka Ora, Ka Ako and other similar international programs.

He said their review found there were significant health benefits from having the free lunch program.

The free lunch also helped reduce the pressure from the high cost of food, and had benefits for engaging with school and learning, he said.

Health Coalition Aotearoa was calling for the program to be doubled so that it reached at least 50 percent more children around the country, he said.