Poverty group backs free food

By Mike Dinsdale

The Whangarei Child Poverty Action Group (WCPAG) has welcomed a proposal by Labour to give a free daily meal to all children in low-decile schools, saying the policy would help ease the region's child-poverty statistics.

Labour's new education policy includes up to $19 million a year to give a free daily meal to all children in low-decile schools, with leader David Shearer saying Labour would join forces with community organisations to put food into schools.

About 40,000 children are already fed at schools by charities, but a Ministry of Health survey has estimated at least twice that go to school with no food.

A WCPAG research report earlier this year found at least 1793 children in Whangarei - 33 per cent of children attending decile 1-4 schools - received food assistance weekly, with some getting food more than once a week.

All 14 decile 1 and 2 schools and five of those rated 3 and 4 in Whangarei are providing food to their students, with 13 providing breakfasts, and 12 providing sandwiches or cooked lunch, for about 200 children who arrive at school hungry and/or without lunch each week.

More than 400 food parcels are provided each month through Whangarei charitable groups and 1100 special-need grants for food from Work and Income are provided each month.

WCPAG spokeswoman Sherry Carne said the policy would not be the answer to the region's shocking child poverty status, but would be a huge step in the right direction.

The group is holding a public meeting in Whangarei today to discuss the Children's Commissioner's "solutions to child poverty issues and options" report at Manaia PHO, Rust Ave, from 1pm. The report recommends free food for low decile schools.

Ms Carne said there was a real need for Labour's policy in Northland. "We support it and there are already many schools and organisations providing food for our poorest schools."

She said there was a clear link between poor nutrition and learning ability. "Good nutrition leads to better learning outcomes."

- Northern Advocate

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