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Lunch review prompts petition

The Labour Party has launched a petition to “stop the cuts” to the free school lunches programme that is currently under government review.

The campaign calls on the coalition government to ”to commit to continue funding free and healthy school lunches” via the Ka Ora, Ka Ako school lunch scheme, which provides 200,000 school lunches to kids every day with the aim of reducing hunger and food insecurity.

It has seen “strong support” so far, garnering more than 16,000 signatures within 24 hours of being launched, after Associate Education Minister David Seymour, who oversees the review, said he was looking to cut funding for the programme by up to half.

Seymour said 10,000 lunches are “wasted” every day, and there is a lack of evidence to support claims that the $325 million programme improves school attendance or achievement, although Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has said that the review does “not necessarily” mean fewer children or schools will participate in the scheme.

“Our coalition agreement’s really clear, we are supporters of the school lunch programme – but like every programme across this country, and government, we are very determined to make sure that we can make it more efficient, more effective, and make sure there’s less waste,” he said.

Any cuts could affect up to 10 schools and one teen unit in Wairarapa, where 1800 students receive daily kai.

Wairarapa MP Mike Butterick said he has heard from schools and parents in Wairarapa about social deprivation, and from educators about a number of resourcing issues.

Butterick said he understands completely that a well-fed student is in a physically and mentally better place to learn.

“I acknowledge the cost-of-living crisis is a very real issue for many families trying to put food on the table,” he said, while noting concerns “the programme was not necessarily as efficient as it could be.”

“No one wants to see food wasted, and no one wants to see a child go hungry”, Butterick said.

“I believe a balanced review will offer evidence that will support a well-informed decision on any changes.”

The previous government committed millions of dollars to the Ka Ora, Ka Ako programme, and failed to measure its effectiveness, he said.

Butterick said he supports free school lunches where they are shown to make a difference.

“We do need to check that the programme is delivering to those that need it while making sure it is efficient and effective.”

“Recent Treasury reports found 12 percent of the lunches were left over every day.”

Labour list MP Kieran McAnulty said it is “completely unacceptable” that families with students attending 10 Wairarapa schools are being “threatened” with an end to the programme.

“I’m concerned that kids will go hungry so the government can help fund tax cuts for landlords,” he said.

“This is unfair, cold-hearted, and mean.”

After frequent visits to Wairarapa schools, McAnulty said he has seen “first-hand” the “positive impact” of the programme on students and schools.

“That’s also what I have heard from staff and parents,” he said.

“Having a full tummy is a pre-condition, it seems to me, to successful learning and student health.

“The effect will be widespread, and I can’t see how this helps in a cost of living crisis.”

Education spokesperson for
Labour Jan Tinetti added that “teachers are seeing more attention in the classroom, and parents and caregivers are saving $33 per week per child, or up to $1,250 per year per child on average”.

“The free and healthy school lunches programme feeds more than 200,000 children in nearly 1000 schools,” she said.

“It also employs hundreds of people in our communities – and they need certainty too.”

Greens MP Celia Wade-Brown said Seymour’s call to halve the spending on government-funded school lunches is “cruel” and “short-sighted”.

“Right now, thousands of children across Aotearoa are going hungry,” she said.

“Families are struggling to cover the basics and far too many parents are forced to skip meals so their children can get something to eat.

“For some children, a school lunch might be the only nutritious meal they get.”

Schools participating in the programme, including those in Wairarapa, are clear about its benefits, and the Green Party wants that to continue, Wade-Brown said.

“It says all you need to know about the values of this government that they are planning to take food away from kids.”

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