GUEST BLOG: Catherine Delahunty – Child Poverty and School Hubs



Is it possible to solve child poverty? For a long time now the Green Party has said we can. And as we nudge closer to the election, we will be saying we must. We’ll be comparing National’s approach that it’s impossible, and even wrong to ensure all children have enough to live decent lives, with our vastly more positive message that every child has the right to the means to live a decent life.

“Throwing money at poor people” as Paula Bennett sneeringly said last week, is absolutely the way to solve child poverty. As is ensuring that kids get access to the education they need to reach their full potential.

Over the last three months Metiria and I have been visiting low decile schools as part of the Greens “Children at the Heart” school hubs tour. It has been sobering and inspiring. Seeing children having to ask for food and hearing school principals’ stories of the extreme transience of families suffering sustained deprivation was sobering. As was hearing from one Principal of his struggle to get some teachers to understand that a child who was late to school, but who managed to get her younger siblings to class was a hero not a failure.

It shames me that in our wealthy country some kids holiday overseas every year while others watch their parents break down under the strain of empty cupboards and electricity disconnection.

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These are the families which the Government refuses to support through “Working for Families” . These are the children who miss out on birthday parties or new shoes let alone an iPad.

Meeting these bright and beautiful children reminded me that we are responsible for the current situation. We are not powerless, we can choose to change these conditions for them.

Many low decile schools inspire me because they are prepared to do so much more than teach. They respond to the needs of children from food to transport to medical appointments.

They are doing what they can to reduce the impact of inequality.  But should teachers have to do this?

We need teachers to teach. That’s what they’re good at.

They should not have to try and fix the catastrophe of social inequality that free market capitalism has visited upon our communities.

Some schools are opening their doors and strengthening relationships with communities as a great mitigation strategy in the face of Government denial that poverty affects education.

Schools such as Victory, Karori West, and Epuni have highly developed hubs which use the community skills to make schools so much more than classrooms.

They have nurses, social workers, volunteers, adult educators, cooks and gardeners alongside parents and kids building powerful school communities. They uphold Te Reo Maori and cultural inclusion. Some schools are magnets for special needs because they prioritise the needs of these children at the expense of new buildings and extra resources. Schools like Thames South, Merivale Primary and Sunset Primary show extraordinary leadership and dedication to culture as well as achievement in what are sometimes harsh contexts where intergeneration poverty has cut deep.

The Greens will build on that work, though our policy to create onsite community hubs on every low decile New Zealand primary school.

We’ll employ a coordinator to run the hub, plus provide free nutritious lunches, free after school and holiday care and a full time dedicated nurse in every school.

The coordinator will work with their community on what other opportunities they want to include, these could include Moroccan cooking, ESOL, or parenting programmes.

The key is to engage parents in their kids’ education and provide the opportunities for them to get ahead too.

These strategies have been welcomed by the inspiring leaders of low decile schools. Teachers want to teach and  want children to be well and ready to learn. They want parents to engage with the schools and feel like school belongs to whanau and family.

We’ll also build 20 new early childhood centres on school grounds to help participation and transition to school. We won’t fund private providers to do this because we reject the privatisation of education.

The current Government is happy to leave the mitigation of child poverty to the vagaries of charity while refusing to increase wages and benefits, create jobs or address the housing crisis. They are entrenching inequality in education.

We cannot wait another three years to turn the tide for our children. As a nation we can do so much better if we face the truth about child poverty and work with our schools and communities for an end to inequality as the key goal in education. Children are worth it.


Catherine Delahunty is a Green MP from the Hauraki/ Coromandel. She was brought up to be an activist in a left wing Wellington family and works on social and environmental justice from a Te Tiriti o Waitangi perspective. Catherine is education spokesperson for the Greens.


  1. Catherine,

    Love the idea of hubs. Just not convinced that locating them at schools is ideal – for the following reasons:

    1. A successful hub will encourage drop-ins and casual interactions with the organisation – this is a security problem for schools who have to maintain safety for students as a priority. A clash of intent between both institutions already – one that wants to be inclusive, and the other which must serve a static school community.
    2. A large proportion of those who will benefit the most, will be school phobic – they will have negative experience or impressions of school and will be reluctant to return. A neutral gathering place creates a sense of ownership that cannot be created at a school institution, which remains under the control of the principal and BOT,
    3. No matter how successful the scheme is – it is at the mercy of future governments and MoE. It needs to be future proofed,
    4. Local hubs will be created in response to local needs, but school location will then make it undergo a process regarding school design and planning – another hurdle that will impede critical progress.

    Possible solutions:
    1. Look to the local underutilised war memorial halls, maraes and sports clubs, that are often used only a small proportion of the time. Invest in creating hubs that bring together everyone that lives locally.
    2. Make sure that the community retains over 50% of the ownership of any facility and project – so that it becomes harder for any future central government to dismantle.
    3. Create community development models that are shared that show how to truly consult community and develop hub visions and designs that are adaptable and constantly changing. As this knowledge is shared, communities will become more adept and efficient at managing their own problems along with the hubs.

    Moutere Hills in Nelson is a good example of how people-friendly community hubs can not only provide locals with opportunities to connect, play and learn, but from recollection – became profitable within the first five years.

    • Using schools to model the program, makes sense to me due to their current connections with the community. I don’t disagree with what you’ve said, I just think this type of community building needs the best chance of success, in order to qualify or inspire groups outside schools to form.

      I have a feeling that local government would best facilitate the solutions you put, potentially both the communities & local representatives would benefit through this type of leadership through the MOE. But I think in most respects a big part of community development is education, schools need to be involved, how they contribute would be largely a local decision.

  2. This is awesome Catherine.

    How can anyone find anything wrong with your plans – now lets just get you voted in! How about some mailers in the mailboxes, with the realisation that not everyone has access to computers or TVs or newspapers, and radio. And the diehard National and NZ First supporters living in old folks homes need to see this too.

    Earlier this week I contacted UNICEF. I wanted to do something to help feed our 280k children who are living in poverty.
    I asked if they had any program for this because I’d like to volunteer my services.

    I was told “No.” They were raising money to feed $50k children in Sudan.
    So a brief debate ensued, as I suggested they take care of our own children first, and that surely our 280k children living in and below the poverty line should have the help of UNICEF first before we leave the country, and surely these NZ hungry children qualify for aide – with the number being so huge.

    The UNICEF person told me our children are not starving hungry, and I suggested he take a look in his own back yard first, because they are. Now the conversation ends because he didn’t want to talk to me any more.

    I was left flummoxed about how this NZ branch of a multi billion/million(?) dollar international aide organisation ignores its own country. Times have changed for NZ, and it appears UNICEF don’t know this and have their blinkers on.

    Opinion and belief.

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