Monday, May 03, 2021

Government of kindness?

Remember John Campbell's "Feed the kids" campaign? Free school lunches are one of the most effective education policy interventions we can make, boosting attendance and improving learning outcomes. Currently the government funds them for the 25% of children living in the poorest areas of New Zealand. But poor kids whose schools aren't in South Auckland or Aranui or Highbury miss out. Newshub is pushing again for the programme to be expanded so that everyone gets fed. Jacinda Ardern's answer? No:

But despite overwhelming evidence free lunches work to keep students in school and learning, the Government won't commit to making it universal.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told The AM Show although she, in principle, supports universal free school lunches, it's "a matter of prioritisation".

"I don't have a problem with unlimited lunches. I think that would be great... But I have to prioritise, and it is quite costly to roll out and I have to ask the question 'is that the next step for us?'"

The Government hasn't costed what it would take to provide free lunches across Aotearoa, but Ardern says the current program costs "hundreds of millions".

The current cost is $220 million to feed 200,000 children. According to Wikipedia there are around 760,000 schoolkids in New Zealand. So, quadruple it, and we're talking around $850 million. This is serious government money, but to put it in context, its less than the cost of a single road in Auckland - or just one of the gold-plated anti-submarine warfare aircraft the government is buying to prop up the American weapons industry.

Decisions on spending at this level are fundamentally about priorities. And Jacinda Ardern, who promised to "bring kindness back", would rather have pollution-boosting roads and war-toys for the generals than well-fed, well-educated kids. I guess she just has a different definition of "kindness" to the rest of us.