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Hunger among school children 'scandalous' - expert

Published: 12:53PM Tuesday October 09, 2012 Source: ONE News

The number of New Zealand children going to school hungry is "scandalous", according to a member of a group that recommended a national food strategy for low-decile schools.

Victoria University Professor of Public Policy Jonathan Boston and the principal of a Christchurch school making breakfast available for its children, both question figures quoted by the Government on the number of children going to school hungry.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English said a recent survey found that only three to four percent of children were missing out on breakfast, a statement echoed by Prime Minister John Key.

English has said he is quite open to considering a national food strategy for low-decile schools as proposed by the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty appointed by the Children's Commissioner.

Boston, who was co-chair of the advisory group, has told TV ONE's Breakfast the scale of the problem needs to be established but the number of children going hungry is scandalous.

"The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have suggested that only three percent of children are going to school not having had breakfast," he said.

"But a survey in 2006 indicated that something in the vicinity of one in seven children between the ages of five and 14 were sometimes going to school without breakfast."

He said in some cases that may have been a matter of choice rather than because there was no food in the house.

"So one of the first things we need to do is establish the magnitude and scale of the problem. And then we need to consider very carefully what the possible solutions are and which of those solutions would be best, taking all the relevant considerations into account."

Boston said: "In my view it's really scandalous in a society like New Zealand - which is relatively affluent and which produces so much food - it's scandalous that we should have so many children going to school without breakfast and or without lunch. That is simply not acceptable."

He said international evidence "suggests very strongly" that there are significant benefits from having food in school programmes.

"The nature of that evidence of course is always open to debate. There is some local evidence which suggests that the provision of food in schools may not have such large benefits as the international evidence suggests.

But my take on the evidence is that the benefits are significant. The costs are relatively low and we should definitely do it."

'At least 8%'

The principal of Christchurch's Linwood North School, Sandra Smith, told Breakfast she challenges English's percentages on child hunger.

She said she would like to know more detail about the research he's quoting "because I think my experience would be double the percentage that he's talking about. And it's at least eight percent of our school population that does require to be fed on a daily basis."

Linwood North School is already getting help to feed hungry students through the KidsCan charity which feeds 4,500 primary and intermediate school children daily and wants a government funding boost so it can feed about 15,000.

Smith said her school has been part of this programme for nearly six years "and it certainly has made a huge difference to the group of children in our school that are hungry and come to school without being fed".

She said the hunger in the children is a daily occurrence.

KidsCan has been a tremendous support, providing snack food and bread which is toasted for the children, she said.

Weetbix and milk are provided courtesy of Sanitarium and Fonterra "and the children know that if they are hungry they can come and ask in the school office and we will give them breakfast".

The local church and volunteers also run a breakfast club in the school library weekly on a Friday which families come along to, Smith said.

In a Breakfast Facebook poll, 46% of viewers said food should be supplied in schools, 50% said it shouldn't and 4% were not sure.