The real reason many parents can't feed their kids

Julie Chapman, Willie Jackson and Judith Collins on The AM Show. Credit: Video - The AM Show; Image - Getty

The founder of a charity which ensures that kids who turn up to school hungry get fed says their parents aren't to blame.

Instead, KidsCan boss Julie Chapman is blaming the soaring cost of housing. 

"Everyone's got their own story, and you've got to take that into account. I don't like the rhetoric I hear a lot, which is 'all parents are smoking, doing drugs, gambling'. We know that's not true," she told The AM Show on Friday.

"One of the biggest things that we see and hear all the time from parents and schools, is that for families, 60 to 70 percent of their income is going on trying to keep a roof over their heads - they are stuffed."

The median rent in New Zealand has increased 50 percent in the last decade, according to Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment data. Incomes have only increased by about 33 percent in that time, according to Statistics NZ.

The median house price to median income ratio - generally held up as an indicator of affordability - has ballooned from about three in 2002 to 6.5 now, meaning the cost of buying a new home is about 6.5 times the average household income.

The Government on Thursday unveiled a trial scheme which will provide lunches in 30 schools next year, and 120 in 2021. And that's in addition to KidsCan's efforts - not a replacement.

"This isn't something to celebrate," said Chapman. "Kidscan turned 14 on August 5, and I said to the team, 'this is not something to celebrate - that we have to continue to do this, and now the Government is stepping in.'"

KidsCan - funded through donations - operates in 740 schools already, with another 38 on the waiting list. Chapman also has 100 early childhood education centres waiting to join up.

"We have under-five-year-olds who aren't coming with the right amount of formula...they're coming without nappies, they're coming without shoes, they're crying because they're hungry. We don't want to be doing this... I don't think people appreciate the scale of this."

While National Party education spokesperson Nikki Kaye blasted the scheme because her party "believes it is the responsibility of parents to feed their children", her colleague Judith Collins has thrown her support behind it.

"There's no point saying 'the parents should be doing it' because actually, the parents should be doing it, but the fact is some aren't. It's not the kids' fault," Collins told The AM Show.

She said good parents - and those who can afford it - aren't going to stop feeding their kids just because the Government might, but suggested it might have been a better idea for the Government to just give the money to KidsCan, rather than develop its own programme - as Kaye suggested on Thursday.

"My concern would be the inability of this Government to deliver on it."

Julie Chapman. Photo credit: The AM Show

Chapman said KidsCan has no involvement with the new scheme, but is in regular contact with the Government's Child Poverty Unit.

A previous attempt to get lunches in low-decile schools led by former MP Hone Harawira, as well as one backed by former Labour Party MP David Shearer, were both voted down by National in 2015.

"Yes, there is an issue where some children come to school without lunch. That number of children is relatively low," then-Prime Minister Sir John Key said at the time.

"It's really neat Judith is so supportive because... her party isn't supportive," Labour MP Willie Jackson told The AM Show on Friday.

Collins and Jackson. Photo credit: The AM Show

National MP Judith Collins has thrown her support behind the Government's school lunch scheme, on the condition they can actually pull it off.

"Judith is a good person - from Papakura, working-class background - but her main person Nikki Kaye said 'this is going to fail, this is about nanny state'... The National Party do not support this and have opposed it at every point. This should be above politics... it transcends politics," Jackson said. 

He said he'd talk to Finance Minister Grant Robertson about freeing up more money for KidsCan, which estimates it would cost $3.2 million a year to feed hungry kids in the 100 early childhood centres on its waiting list.

"In a country like New Zealand where we have enough food, everyone should have access to that," said Chapman.

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