Nats' breakfast scheme 'plays politics with poor'

JO MOIR
Last updated 05:00 29/05/2013
Israel Mihaka
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ

FUELLING UP: Seven-year-old Israel Mihaka, left, tucks into his Weet-Bix as Andy Poko, 8, enjoys his milk at Maraeroa School’s breakfast club, in Cannons Creek, Porirua.

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The Government has been accused of playing politics with poor children after it unveiled a multimillion-dollar package to subsidise Weet-Bix and milk breakfasts in schools.

But Prime Minister John Key said the Government had no choice but to step in where children were going hungry.

The Government will spend $9.5 million over five years to help Fonterra and Sanitarium extend their KickStart school breakfast programme. The two-day-a-week programme will be extended to five days a week in decile 1-4 schools in term 3 this year, and all schools will be eligible from next year.

More than 570 schools already participate in the voluntary programme, which requires schools and their communities to organise delivery, provide cutlery and do the dishes.

But opponents say $9.5m is just a drop in the bucket, with Mana Party leader Hone Harawira spitting on the idea.

He mocked spitting during a media interview at Parliament, and said that was how he felt about the policy.

"His commitment is only as long as the companies stay in. This isn't about public private partnerships, this is not the Transmission Gully, this is our kids, the poorest, most hungry kids in our country, and they are being insulted by this decision of the prime minister today."

Mr Harawira drafted a Feed the Kids Bill to make it compulsory for low-decile schools to give breakfast to all students.

The funding announced yesterday would not reach all schools, he said. Principals still had to agree, and some children would be too embarrassed to join the programme.

Labour leader David Shearer said it was a political announcement made under pressure. "There's no doubt that he was inspired and copied our policy. That's fine, I don't have a problem with that if it means that kids are going to get fed."

However, it was a "very small" amount of money.

Mr Key said the Government had to act, despite arguments that it was parents' responsibility.

"There are lots of reasons why a child could be going to school hungry. In the end, we can second-guess all of those, but it would still leave us with a hungry child."

And he said he was confident the programme was stable.

Fonterra spokeswoman Carly Robinson said the companies involved were committed for the long term.

Food in schools was a recommendation from the children's commissioner's expert panel on child poverty.

Commissioner Russell Wills welcomed it, but said more needed to be done on eradicating child poverty.

"We know hungry children find it hard to learn at school. And the research and evidence is clear that providing food in schools, done well, can improve both health and education outcomes," he said.

The Government also announced it would stump up $500,000 a year over three years to help charity KidsCan provide health products, raincoats and shoes for needy kids.

 

'EAT IT!' CHANT AT SCHOOL BREAKFAST CLUB

Two free breakfasts a week is all the incentive 7-year-old Israel Mihaka needs to get out of bed and head to school early.

Israel was one of the first through the door to make the most of the Kickstart club yesterday, shovelling down his Weet-Bix and milk before rushing back for a second helping.

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It meant an early wake-up on a bitterly cold day, but it wasn't long before he and his mates started slurping and spilling their milk down their jerseys while chanting "Eat it!" and banging their fists on the table.

Like many of his classmates, Israel turns up to the breakfast club at Maraeroa School in Porirua every Tuesday and Thursday.

A Government announcement yesterday has extended that programme to five days a week for all decile 1 to 4 schools.

In addition to free Fonterra milk and Sanitarium Weet-Bix, Maraeroa School also gets bread donated by Karori Brumby's, which is used to make toast and sandwiches.

"No child goes hungry here and we keep a supply of bread and spreads, and the kids know they can come and ask for food at lunchtime if they don't have any," principal Ali Stockwell said.

"We don't want to make it too appealing and have everyone asking for it, but we also have a few families we know we need to keep an eye on."

Any bread left over at the end of the day is handed out to families in need.

"They're incredibly grateful because, when you have a few children to feed and some of them are big kids, a loaf of bread goes in no time."

About 40 children, or one-third of the school roll, take part in the breakfast club most days.

That number declines on cold days when some children simply don't turn up to school.

"If it's cold and wet outside, we get some parents that just keep their kids at home," Mrs Stockwell said.

"Parents know if they send their kids out in the rain without a jacket, and they come home to a cold house, they will get sick, so it's easier to keep them wrapped up at home instead."

For Mrs Stockwell it's more important to have them at school learning, so she sometimes picks them up herself.

- The Dominion Post

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