The message coming through loud and clear from both National and Labour this week is that some parents are failures.

And both parties appear sick and tired of trying to persuade useless parents to do the right thing by their children and, instead, will simply bypass them and have the state do more for these neglected kids.

David Shearer announced this week that should Labour become the government, they would supply, in association with community and voluntary groups, free daily meals to low-decile schools.

Interestingly, when John Key raised this as an issue in 2007, Labour ministers dismissed the idea as Tory charity and went all Kim Jung-Il on it and tried to pretend there were no starving kids in our schools.


Hopefully National's memory is as long as mine and they will support Shearer's initiative.

Then in the middle of the week, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett announced that beneficiaries who had children aged 3 and 4 would have to enrol them in approved early childhood education centres or face sanctions.

Beneficiary parents would also be required to enrol their children at school from the ages of 5 and 6, enrol with a local GP and complete WellChild checks.

Quite clearly, the minister is fed up with hearing reports from teachers of children turning up in classrooms completely ill-equipped to start their school lives.

Again, this isn't new. My mum was a primary school teacher 30 years ago and every day she would make a loaf's worth of sandwiches to take into school to give to kids who were hungry.

She would also have to toilet train 5-year-olds, teach them the right way up to hold a book and how to hold a pencil.

More than 20 per cent of Kiwis are functionally illiterate - unable to manage daily living and employment tasks that require reading skills beyond a basic level.

Fifty per cent of our prison population is unable to read or write beyond the level of a 10-year-old.

The vast majority of children who become wards of the state have serious medical conditions that would have been picked up had they seen a GP while in the care of their parents.

There has always been poverty. But what we've seen in the past few generations is poverty of spirit, from those who are wealthy as well as from those who are poor.

In times gone by, people who were doing okay in this country didn't begrudge paying taxes to help reduce the inequality between the haves and have-nots. And in times gone by, those who were poor or unemployed or single parents did all they could to ensure their kids were fed, clothed and educated.

It was a mark of pride and a way of making sure their kids wouldn't have to live the same squalid lives as their parents.

Attitudes sure have changed.

What hasn't changed is that we have a group of children in New Zealand who are suffering. And they are statistically likely to have been born to parents who suffered themselves growing up.

The clear message both major parties are sending to parents - and not just beneficiary parents - is that if you won't look after your kids, the state will.

And shame on the parents who are letting their children down.