Speakers at a forum in Palmerston North on poverty and hunger have called for a national discussion about how New Zealand can feed its people.
In Palmerston North, demand for the Salvation Army food bank parcels has doubled in the past four years, with people in employment among those seeking food parcels.
A Children's Commission report released last week found 270,000 children live in poverty in New Zealand. Nationally 40,000 children are being fed by charitable programmes in schools.
"People are finding it more difficult to find food," said Caritas humanitarian programme officer Mark Mitchell.
Mr Mitchell was the keynote speaker at Saturday's Social Justice Week forum at the Catholic Diocesan Centre in Palmerston North.
"There's an increasing need for people to access food banks but at the same time we're wasting food at a time of hunger."
Mr Mitchell said he knew politicians would want to debate policies, but people had to be fed "now". Once that was happening the nation could look at long-term solutions.
Also invited to speak at the forum, attended by about 30 people, were Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway, Rangitikei MP Ian McKelvie and Mana Party representative and former Palmerston North city councillor Peter Wheeler.
Mr Lees-Galloway said the level of discussion around poverty in New Zealand needed to be raised. At present suggestions were being dismissed out of hand by the Government, the Labour Party MP said.
"The Government thinks its job is to be hands off.
"Only by working together can we get there, and the first step is to talk about these things."
He wanted to see the recommendations of the Children's Commission report into child poverty discussed properly.
Labour yesterday announced a policy of providing free food to 650 of the lowest decile primary and intermediate schools in the country.
Mr McKelvie, a National MP, said rural New Zealand suffered because small towns did not have the infrastructure of support services that centres like Palmerston North had.
His electorate had nine decile one schools and towns where only 50 per cent of the population were employed.
Policies were set for the good of the majority of people and as a result often failed those in rural areas, he said.
"We need to think when policy is put in place about what it's doing in our little communities."
Green Party MP Mojo Mathers and Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia were invited but unable to attend the event, while NZ First declined to send a representative.
Mr Wheeler said Mana did not have a solution to all of New Zealand's problems "but I tell you what, it will feed kids in schools".
Politicians had their priorities wrong, and were placing the blame in the wrong place by labelling those who could not feed themselves.
"In New Zealand we have the food, the wealth, the means to distribute, but we can't feed the people. And what do we do? We blame the people."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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