Dunne supports hunger | The Jackal

9 May 2013

Dunne supports hunger

Today, Kiwibog published a letter by Peter Dunne:

I fully understand what is intended by this essentially laudable proposals, but I think it is fundamentally flawed for a number of reasons.

Of course, there is a significant number of children who go to school to hungry, because they have not been properly fed at home, and of course poor nutrition has an adverse effect on learning and the subsequent development of the child. That is not the issue – rather, the question is what is the best way of addressing this problem. 
At one level, the idea of meals in schools is superficially attractive, but it is essentially palliative, and does little to deal with the circumstances of these children on a long term basis. 

I really don't see how feeding hungry kids can be viewed as superficial? Its children's short-term hunger leading onto long-term problems that Peter Dunne should be concerned with, which is clearly anything but a superficial problem.

Unless Dunne plans to increase benefits and wages to a degree that parents can afford to pay bills and buy enough food each week, which simply won't happen under this National government, then a "palliative" solution is all that is currently available.

I'm left wondering if Dunne would perhaps argue against soup kitchens during the great depression because it wasn't going to permanently cure the problem of widespread unemployment and impoverishment?

Then there is the question of which group of children should we be focusing on. After all, not all children in schools will come from the same socio-economic backgrounds. So, should such a programme be applied universally, which would be as expensive as it would be impractical, or should it be more tightly targeted?

How about feeding the kids who arrive at school without having any breakfast? How about feeding the thousands of kids who arrive at school without any food to eat and don't have any money to purchase lunch? Asking kids if they want breakfast or lunch seems like a pretty simple solution to me.

And if so, how? Should, for example, it just apply in low decile schools, even though there will [be] children in those schools from a higher socio-economic status who would not need such a programme?

So the children from low-income households (270,000 children are now considered to be living in poverty) should go hungry because there are some children who's families can afford to feed them? What an entirely pathetic argument based on elitism!

In that event, what about low-income household children in higher decile schools? Or, to get around income definition problems, should the children of beneficiaries be the only ones eligible?

Of course not! There are many New Zealanders who are considered to be working poor because of our low waged economy and the high cost of living. Having a job these days doesn't necessarily mean people can pay the bills and buy enough food each week.

The real silly thing about Peter Dunne's argument is that even a cursory glance at the actual Education (Food in Schools) Amendment Bill (PDF) would enable somebody to understand that the policy proposes a targeted approach. Here's the explanatory note to the bill:

This Bill amends the Education Act 1989 to provide for the introduction of fully State funded breakfast and lunch programmes into all decile 1 and 2 schools and other designated schools in New Zealand.

The meals will be available to all enrolled students in these schools free of charge, and will be required to meet Ministry of Health nutritional guidelines.

Despite that well-defined policy initiative, The idiot Minister of Revenue bleats:

Whatever way one looks at the issue, the definitional problems are massive, and strongly suggest that such a programme would not only be unsustainable, but also impractical, and in a number of cases potentially inequitable.

Except Dunne's definition above is clearly wrong! It's what they call a straw man argument to make the problem appear disproportionately large so that any solution seems unattainable. Not only is Dunne being dishonest in his argument, he's ignoring the fact that food in schools programs are being effectively run all around the world.

With New Zealand being a huge producer and exporter of food, surely we can find enough to feed some hungry children in schools? Besides, the long-term cost to the nation and to children's ability to learn from not doing anything far outweighs any short-term cost of providing children with enough food.

The heartless Peter Dunne also appears to be arguing that some well off children will abuse the system by getting breakfast or lunch for free when their parents could otherwise afford to provide it. That might be the case, but it shouldn't preclude poor kids from getting enough sustenance.

That is why I take the view that a much more realistic and workable approach is to target directly, through early identification by community agencies, at risk families and to work with them to help them get the support they need to properly feed their children.

That might be a laudable idea, but would be just as costly as providing food in schools and take far longer to ensure children are getting enough food, which is an immediate problem.

That support could take any number of forms, depending on individual circumstances, including direct assistance with the provision of food, at one end of the scale, through to such things as life skills advice on cooking, for example, and proper budget advice at the other end of the scale.

The ever-deluded Peter Dunne appears to be saying that poor families should attain more food parcels from charitable organisations, many of which are already swamped. Likewise budgeting agencies are struggling to keep up with demand, especially since National cut funding for many of these agencies. That clearly shows the government has no intention to implement any of Dunne's already failing proposals.

Such a targeted approach is far more likely to succeed in the long term, and benefit directly at-risk children, and would have my full support.

Then why is he propping up a government that's doing the exact opposite? Since 2008, National has ensured the amount of children living in poverty has increased by more than 50,000 by cutting funding for budgeting services, kicking thousands off the welfare they're entitled to and generally increasing unemployment. They have been actively working to make the problem of inequality a lot worse.

I used to think Dunne had a heart, but now I see it's been corrupted by National's selfishness.

Here's a list of organisations supporting the campaign to feed children in schools:

Anglican Church
Auckland Action Against Poverty
Caritas Aotearoa NZ
Child Poverty Action Group
CTU Rūnanga
Every Child Counts
Methodist Church
NZ Educational Institute
NZ Nurses’ Organisation
NZ Principals’ Federation
Poverty Action Waikato
Salvation Army
Save the Children
Te ORA (Te Ohu Rata o Aotearoa): Māori Medical Practitioners’ Association
Te Rōpū Wāhine Māori Toko i te Ora (Māori Women’s Welfare League)
Te Waka Huia
The Royal New Zealand College for General Practitioners
Unicef NZ
Unite Union
Women’s Refuge