David Seymour slams free school lunches scheme as 'wasteful' as fate to be considered by Coalition Government

The Government's free school lunches scheme could be on the chopping block after ACT leader David Seymour slammed the programme as wasteful public spending that "should be gone". 

The Associate Education Minister is currently working to put together a proposition on the fate of school lunches for Cabinet that the coalition partners could agree on. 

"One thing I will say is we will not be spending $350 million because we just can't afford it right now. We will do it in a way that will be more effective and efficient, and is a good use of taxpayers' money," Seymour told Newstalk ZB on Monday.

He added the programme was "a huge waste of money and it should be gone".

Seymour has previously said 10,000 free school lunches are wasted each day, amounting to $25 million of wasted surplus lunches.

His comments come the same day a new study was released that found food poverty was contributing to New Zealand's poor performance in international education achievement.

The study found students who missed a meal even just once a week scored much lower than their peers who never went hungry, showing they were two to four years behind in their learning.

"For example, in maths the gap was 60 points between students who never go hungry and those who miss a meal once a week and 83 points for students who miss meals two to three times a week," Dr Pippa McKelvie-Sebileau, who co-analysed the study with Health Coalition Aotearoa (HCA) co-chair Professor Boyd Swinburn, said.

To put this into perspective, twenty points on the PISA scale is regarded as equivalent to one year of learning for 15-year-olds.

The study said it accounted for known effects of socio-economic deprivation on educational achievement when determining the effects of hunger.

As a result, Health Coalition Aotearoa (HCA) is calling for the Government's Ka Ora, Ka Ako Healthy School Lunches Programme to be doubled.

The programme was introduced by Labour in 2019 and aims to reduce food insecurity by providing access to a nutritious lunch in school every day to about 235,000 students who are in need of the greatest support.

"This PISA data shows that hunger has a significant impact on achievement and an expanded Ka Ora, Ka Ako would provide the coalition Government with an evidence-based solution to raise educational achievement," Prof Swinburn said.

Representatives from HCA wrote to Seymour on Monday requesting an urgent meeting so they can plead the case for keeping the scheme.