An expert advisory group created by the Children's Commissioner recommends that all low-decile schools offer pupils free food in an immediate effort to tackle child poverty.

The proposal is in an options paper to be released this morning. The paper was prepared by an advisory group formed by Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills in March.

The programme would be like the Food for Kids scheme run in 223 low-decile schools in a partnership between children's charity KidsCan and the Government.

Under that programme children get three free food items a day from a list including toast, baked beans and fruit. The Ministry of Social Development pays for 11 per cent and the rest comes from public donations.


KidsCan founder Julie Chapman was told about the recommendation at a briefing with Dr Wills in Auckland yesterday. She said it was among several short-term plans to tackle child poverty drawn up by the advisory group.

The Office of the Children's Commissioner confirmed providing free food in all low-decile schools was among the group's recommendations, but would not say if it would be an extension of the KidsCan partnership.

If extended to New Zealand's 861 decile 1 to 4 primary and intermediate schools, the KidsCan scheme would cost $3.3 million a year, based on existing costs outlined in its submission on the Government's Green Paper on Vulnerable Children.

Mrs Chapman said 150 schools were on a waiting list. "Up to $100 million goes offshore [every year] to sponsor-a-child schemes but there is a real need for support here," she said.

Taumarunui Primary deputy principal Christina Koko said the school was among those on the waiting list for the KidsCan programme.

It already provides cereal and toast, funded though local sponsorship, for the 146 children on its roll.

Decile 1 Cannon's Creek School in Porirua has been part of the KidsCan food programme since it began six years ago. It provides toast and spreads in the morning through the programme and fruit at playtime from a separate scheme.

Principal Ruth O'Neill said 30 children came to school hungry each morning and called for the scheme to be extended to one substantial meal a day - not just fruit and snacks.

"Things are worse than they were six years ago," she said.

Bryan Bruce, whose documentary Inside Child Poverty looked at the extent of the problem in New Zealand in the run-up to last year's general election, said every child should receive one healthy meal a day.

A spokeswoman for the Children's Commissioner said the public would have six weeks to comment on the paper before final advice on the best ways to tackle child poverty goes to Prime Minister John Key in December.