Government announces free school lunch trial

The Government has announced a free daily lunch trial to be rolled out at select schools next year.

The trial - which will provide free lunches to Year 1-8 children every school day - will begin in 30 schools from term one next year before expanding to 120 schools in 2021. When the policy is fully rolled out, 21,000 children will benefit.

The announcement was made by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Children's Minister Tracey Martin at Kaitao Intermediate School in Rotorua on Thursday.

"That is a pure and simple issue. Do we want our kids to go hungry? The obvious answer is no," Ardern said.

"That's why the Government is rolling this school lunch programme out to the kids in New Zealand who need our support the most.

"Children themselves told us during the consultation on the strategy that going to school hungry was a barrier to their learning. That was heart-breaking to hear and this prototype starts to ensure children are fed and have the best chance to succeed."

The programme was one of 75 initiatives part of the New Zealand's Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy launched on Thursday. Martin said 10,000 Kiwis - including 6000 children and young people - were consulted on the strategy.

Priorities include reducing child poverty, mitigating the impacts of poverty and socio-economic disadvantages, supporting children in care, addressing family and sexual violence, and helping children with greater needs - like through learning support.

The Ministry of Education says between 150,000 and 250,000 children are in poverty "depending on the measures used". 

"One in five children experience moderate or severe food insecurity. In our most disadvantaged communities, 40 percent of parents run out of food sometimes or often."

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft said the strategy was "world-leading" and a "once-in-a-generation opportunity to get things right".

"It is hugely significant to have a long-term, cross-government strategy to make a real difference to children and young people's lives."

Becroft said he has consistently advocated for free school lunches and looks forward to the day when the lunches are available to all children.

Friday's announcement was welcomed by Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson, who said all kids deserve a full education and full stomach.

"Too many children are going to school hungry on a daily basis. It affects their ability to concentrate, to learn, and get the most out of their education. As a country we can't allow this to continue," she said in a statement.

She said many families are struggling to make ends meet while also paying for high housing costs and with low wages and incomes.

"Today's announcement shows a genuine commitment to reducing inequality in Aotearoa. It's a simple step we can take right now."

"Breaking the cycle of inequality starts with supporting the learning and wellbeing of our tamariki and future generations."