Ignore Seymour: NZ desperately needs more not less investment in school meals

by | Mar 7, 2024 | Opinion

David Seymour, who increasingly appears to be the tail joyfully wagging the dog of our new coalition government, has called for the school meals program to be scrapped. Christopher Luxon, dutifully padding along behind his coalition partner, has said that it must provide value for money – no doubt opening the way for cut backs and penny-pinching in the near future.

The response from health advocates and educators has been swift and unequicoval. They have demanded meetings with Seymour to present the facts that demonstrate how very wrong he is about free school meals. Those on the frontline know how valuable these meals can be for those who have access to them.

What these educators and advocates may not realise is that Seymour isn’t interested in facts. He doesn’t care about research. He only cares about his swivel-eyed mission to turn Aotearoa into a governemt-free, Hunger Games-style, Hobbesian hellscape.

Seymour’s announcement comes in the same week as news emerges that food poverty in New Zealand has led to 15 year-olds being up to four years behind in an educational achievement test.

Analysis by Dr McKelvie-Sebileau and Health Coalition Aotearoa (HCA) co-chair Professor Boyd Swinburn in the latest Public Health Communication Centre Briefing found New Zealand’s food poverty rates were among the highest of the 25 countries that provided the data.

It beggars belief that our country which, as we townies are constantly reminded, has agriculture as its very backbone, can be failing to feed its children. And yet here is an Assosiate Education Minister arguing that we should be taking food away from those most in need.

The facts are, New Zealand needs more free school meals, not fewer. In fact the argument for universal school meals is so powerful that it is only through idealogically driven blindness that people like Seymour can fail to see its merits.

A Canadian study, republished here courtesy of The Conversation, shows that universal school meals aren’t just the kind and humane thing to do, they also bring economic benefits that far outweigh the investment.

In the short-term school meals save households $129-$189 ($155- $228 NZD) per child per month. With the ongoing cost of living crisis this would provide much needed releif for low income and middle class families.

Not only that but in Sweden, the introduction universal school meals led to  2.6% increase in income for each household – an increase not attributable to to reduced food expenditure.

School meals would also help with our labour shortage and help more women access the labour market. The same study from Sweden shows that school meals increased women’s participation in the labour market by 6%. In China that figure was 14% with the greatest increase for low income and rural women.

In the longterm, the Swedish study also shows that access to free school meals led to a 3% rise in a child’s future income. That figure rises to 6% when looking only at the lowest income bracket.

New Zealand could also benefit in other ways were we to adopt a farm to school program like the ones used in parts of US. Programs like these offer farmers and food producers a stable market for their produce, strengthen local food economies, create agri-business jobs, and weaken the hold of the supermarket duopoly over our agriculture sector. In the US, every $1 invested in farm to school meal results in $1.3-$2.6 worth of increased local economic activity.

All these benefits plus the priceless advantage of preventing me from going out of my mind.

Universal school meals are good for kids. They are good for schools. They are good for farmers. They are good for the economy. They create jobs. it’s a no-brainer if ever there was one.

The same could be said of David Seymour.

Photo by Abigail Miller on Unsplash

About the Author

David Wrigley

David is a writer and musician from Kemureti/ Cambridge. He has been published in Noble Rot, Nourish Magazine, Turbine|Kapohau, New Zealand Poetry Yearbook, and is currently working on his first novel. He has done his time in restaurants in Aotearoa and the UK. Oh, yes. He has done his time.

Related Posts