The Government’s announced today that it will trial the provision of free lunches for 30 schools in order to reduce child poverty, hoping to expand it to 120 schools by 2021. Auckland Action Against Poverty welcomes the move towards the provision of free lunches for kids but warns that the limited targeting of the scheme and low benefit levels won’t address core issues of food deprivation and poverty.
“In order to put a dent on the record number of food grants by Work and Income the provision of free lunches need to be universal. If the Government wants to lift families out of poverty they need to address below the poverty benefit levels and lift them by at least 47% as recommended by the Welfare Expert Advisory Group”, says Ricardo Menendez March, Auckland Action Against Poverty Coordinator.
“Hardship grants have almost doubled from June last year. In the quarter of June 2019 there were 229,132 food grants needed by families across Aotearoa, compared to 137,424 last year. This is a direct result of increased levels of food poverty in Aotearoa. Work and Income has not changed its policy around food grant entitlements, while rent prices and the cost of living across the country continue to rise.
“The Government can’t address child poverty without fixing adult poverty. While we support the move towards free lunches for kids, we are concerned that the Government continues leaving their parents in poverty.
“The targeted approach by Government of the free lunches scheme is a direct result of their fiscally conservative approach to policy. The Government can afford to ensure every kid in Aotearoa has food in school and parents receive enough each week to get by, but it is held back by their Budget Responsibly Rules which limits spending and debt intake.
“We are calling on the Government to be brave and serious about ending poverty by universalising the provision of free lunches in school and increase core benefit levels. The current approaches to end poverty won’t address the chronic underfunding of our public services and welfare system.