"You simply can't learn distracted by an empty stomach," said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
The New Zealand government has now vowed to provide trail-free lunch to school students every day so that not one young student goes hungry. According to the NZ Herald, the program will be rolled out next year across 30 schools in Rotorua and Hawke's Bay—feeding around 5000 students between Year 1 and Year 8. Once the policy is fully implemented, the government hopes to extend its services to a total 120 school that feeds 21,000 children by 2021. As a part of the Government's Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy, children will be provided lunch free of cost for five days every week.
Not all our babies have regular access to breakfast lunch & even dinner. The far reaching implications of this sad reality effects EVERYONE.— Sammi Curtis (@sammi_curtis) 29 August 2019
Having given up many a morning to breakfast club, I am ecstatic to see this trial begin✊🏽 https://t.co/qxDatk2x9w
According to the outlet, the country's Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, and Children's Minister, Tracey Martin, made the announcement on August 29 at the Kaitao Intermediate School in Rotorua. Speaking about the idea behind providing free lunches she said it was "pure and simple – Do we want our kids to go hungry?" To which she answered no. "That's why the Government is rolling this school lunch program out to the kids in New Zealand who need our support the most," she continued. "You simply can't learn distracted by an empty stomach," said Arden of the Government's pledge to reduce poverty among children.
Finally! Free school lunch trial staring in New Zealand. This is a step in the right direction and a no-brainer https://t.co/u10e9b7mx9— Pii-Tuulia Nikula (@PiiNikula) 29 August 2019
She further shared how the government consulted children all around the country before implementing the Wellbeing Strategy. "Children themselves told us during the consultation on the strategy that going to school hungry was a barrier to their learning. That was heartbreaking to hear and this prototype starts to ensure children are fed and have the best chance to succeed," added Arden. This program comes as a part of 75 initiatives the Government revealed the same day. As per the news outlet, the policy will also be focusing on supporting young children and addressing family and sexual violence in order to cater to their mental wellbeing.
"Reducing child poverty is a key goal of this Government and the $5.5 billion families package and initiatives in the wellbeing budget will raise 50,000-74,000 children out of poverty," said Ardern. Several families in New Zealand are still struggling to provide food for their children and the government plans on alleviating this distressing situation by providing young people with a healthy meal. "Especially in housing and ensuring more people can move into sustainable well-paid jobs to take the pressure off families," she added.
"The strategy is a blueprint for action," said Martin adding, "Delivery on all the actions will help make sure New Zealand is the best place in the world to be a child." However, education spokesperson, Nikki Kaye was of the view that the program had some definite flaws. She points at the fact that not every school is equipped with a kitchen that can cook and store large quantities of food. "There is minimal funding in this scheme for equipment. The scheme is designed with maximum work for the school unlike the majority of other successful schemes operating now," said Kaye.
"If this is the beginning of a universal free lunch program for all schools, this would cost hundreds of millions and take away the autonomy of parents to provide lunch for their children," added Kaye. Applauding the strategy, Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft said, "This is a co-ordinated, integrated plan for the first time. Properly implemented it could be a game-changer. Ten percent [of children] are in a chronic disadvantage. This is not the New Zealand we should be proud of, this is not the New Zealand that we want ... and for the first time we've confronted it as a country."
Furthermore, the commission expressed, "We're better than this. As a country, we deserve to do better for our children. Children have told us what they want, we know what they need, this is their right and this delivers on it." Now, Becroft hoped that providing every child with free lunch in school all around the country would be the government's long-term goal.