Editorial: Start the day right

Last updated 11:22 18/09/2012

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As you eye up a third slice of toast with breakfast in the morning, stop for a moment and think about this.

There are children in New Zealand, including Marlborough, who arrive at school hungry because they haven't had breakfast. That's because they come from poor and dysfunctional homes where the food supply is erratic.

It's called child poverty and the concept is hard to accept in this country. But there are teachers in low-income areas, and from the lowest-decile schools, who say it's no myth and that there are youngsters who regularly turn up having had little or no breakfast.

That's why the fruit-in-schools scheme is already in place and why the over-stretched Kids Can organisation delivers food to many classrooms nationwide.

But the Labour Party thinks more should be done. Party leader David Shearer's plans include a programme to feed schoolchildren at 650 of the lowest-decile schools up to a maximum cost of about $19 million a year.

The scheme is noteworthy and would go a long way to ending the dreadful business of pupils arriving at school hungry and staying that way all day. It would also mean children from poor families would not jeopardise their chances of learning.

But is it as simple as that? Is it as easy as a politician getting up and making a statement? Of course not, because there are many questions and concerns to ponder.

Would such a scheme only be a Band-Aid to a bigger problem? Could it actually further erode parental responsibility in those struggling homes?

Could it also be insulting to some lower-decile-area families, who don't need or want Government breakfast handouts? And how would the scheme cater for children who don't get any lunch?

It would also be interesting to see how long it would be before parents of children at other schools - with slightly higher deciles - asked why they were missing out.

Clearly, there's no such thing as a free breakfast so taxpayers would also have to pick up the tab for Labour's policy, but perhaps we should not be worried about how much it would cost or who would pay for it.

After all, such a scheme is about investing in the future of our country because the cost of not doing so could be significant. Malnourished children get sick, can't learn, disrupt the class and turn out to be a burden on all of us.

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- The Marlborough Express

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