Govt rolls out expanded food in schools

04:47, May 28 2013

Thousands of pupils will be given free milk and Weet-Bix from next year, in a five-year breakfast programme involving the Government and private firms.

The Government today released its response to a report by the Children's Commissioner's Expert Advisory Group on child poverty. Much of it was a run-down of previous policies and announcements, such as welfare reforms or the Children's Action Plan.

But Prime Minister John Key also confirmed plans to extend the KickStart breakfast programme run by Fonterra and Sanitarium.

The Government will fund 50 per cent of the expansion - up to $9.5m over 5 years - so that all schools that need it can take it up, with the companies footing the remainder of the bill.

A further $1.5m over three years will help Kidscan to provide clothes, health, and hygiene products to disadvantaged children.

Key said the programme did not replace parents' responsibility to look after their children.

"I'd like to make one thing clear - the Government believes parents have the primary responsibility for providing their kids with the basics, including a decent breakfast and a pair of shoes,'' he said.

"But the fact remains that some children are going to school hungry and therefore not in good shape to learn."

"This is a simple breakfast, and one generations of New Zealanders have grown up on - Weet-Bix and milk," Key said.

The programme will initially target schools with decile rating 1-4, with a view to eventually providing it to all schools which need the programme.

"By teaming up with Fonterra and Sanitarium, and deepening our support for KidsCan, we are building on the existing strengths of these organisations, while keeping the costs to taxpayers down," Key said.

KickStart Breakfast, now in its fifth year, currently provides breakfasts of milk and Weet-Bix twice a week to children in more than 500 lower decile schools two days a week, or 48,000 breakfast a week.

Pierre van Heerden, general manager of Sanitarium, said increasingly, schools were telling the prgramme's organisers us that they'd like to see it rolled out every day to meet the needs of children.

"Our partnership with the Government to join us in funding an extended programme will, I'm sure, be welcomed by all involved," van Heerden said in a statement.

The $1.5m funding for KidsCan would go towards ''shoes, raincoats, lice treatment and other basic, essential healthcare needs,'' Key said.

''KidsCan already has the networks to reach vulnerable children and families, and the funding boost will help KidsCan continue its great work.''

Both of the funding agreements aimed to harness the corporate sector and the community, Key said.

"We want to strike a balance between looking after the kids in genuine need, against creating dependency."

Julie Chapman, chief executive and founder of KidsCan, said the funding had come at the right time, with the charity having recently conducted work with schools to establish the needs of pupils.

''The increase in government support along with the monthly donations we receive from individuals and our corporate and media sponsors will enable us to reach even more of New Zealand's less fortunate kids still waiting for our supports.''

Medicines would be provided for skin and respiratory infections which would develop into serious illnesses if it was left untreated.

The charity already provided support to pupils at 279 low decile schools, including socks, shoes, raincoats and basic health needs.

Budget 2013, released earlier this month, set aside $100m over three years for a home insulation programme, extra funding for budget services, $21.6m for rheumatic fever prevention, and the Government will consider a warrant of fitness regime for rental housing and is working with NGOs to help low income families access finance.

The Government's food in schools programme has been highly debated after details were not included in the Budget.

Mana Party leader Hone Harawira's member's bill to provide free breakfasts to all low decile schools is due before Parliament in coming weeks but is unlikely to get majority support.