Hone Harawira's bill, Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in School) Amendment Bill, starts with a lie. From the Explanatory note:
Growing levels of poverty in New Zealand have resulted in too many parents being unable to afford to provide their children with breakfast before school and/or lunch at school, or being unable to afford to provide their children with sufficiently nutritious meals before and during school.
The latest data available shows that levels of child poverty are declining:
The shaded area shows that the percentage of children living in households with income below 60 percent of the median after-housing costs household income (referenced to 2007) has fallen from 37 percent in 2001 to 21 percent in 2011.
Poverty is though measured in various ways. One is to look at non-monetary indicators of hardship. On that measure children are experiencing increased hardship.
However the report says:
... it is noted that income poverty rates for children remained much the same from 2009 to 2011, yet here material hardship rates are reported as rising. One of the main reasons for this difference of trend is that families with children with family incomesabove the poverty line reported increased hardship, thus increasing measured hardship irrespective of what the income poverty trend was.
From this I understand that increasing material hardship does not relate to the poorest children, presumably those in decile 1 and 2 schools - the target of the bill.
The longer-run findings on child poverty reflect the fact that AHC incomes in 2011 for low-income households were around the same as they were in the early 1980s in real terms, but that relative to the median the incomes of lower-income households with children had fallen away (ie higher inequality in 2011 than in the mid 1980s).
So I keep coming back to the question, why now? Why have we reached a point where children need to be fed breakfast and lunch in schools when they haven't in the past, during times of greater or similar poverty and hardship?
Lindsay Mitchell is a welfare commentator who blogs at http://lindsaymitchell.blogspot.com.au/