22 Sep 2023

Labour promises to keep school lunch programme

1:12 pm on 22 September 2023

Labour leader Chris Hipkins has confirmed the party would continue to fund the free school lunch programme at its current settings.

He said it would cost about $650 million to continue the programme at about 1000 schools. The 2023 Budget had discontinued funding for the programme from the end of the 2024 school year.

"Committing funding for free and healthy school lunches out to next term will give families and schools certainty that the programme is here to stay," Hipkins said.

"Labour has supported 25 percent of schools to give all their kids a healthy lunch every school day since 2020. These are the schools that face the largest socio-economic barriers to achieving in education - we know that if the programme wasn't in place there would be many children who would go without."

He said it would save families about $33 per child per week.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins and Labour MP for Tukituki Anna Lorck visit the Watties factory in Napier while on the campaign trail on 21 September 2023.

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The Green Party has committed to expanding the programme wider, increasing the number of children benefiting from it from 230,000 to 365,000 with the aim of eventually making it available to all schools.

National has also committed to continuing the programme, with a promise to make it more efficient. Leader Christopher Luxon had misheard a question during the first leaders debate and committed to rolling out the programme at all schools, but later clarified he had meant it would continue at the current settings.

National's likely governing partner ACT has, however, committed to scrapping the scheme.

"ACT has already committed to scrapping the programme and could hold National to ransom on it," Hipkins said. "With the gaping hole in nationals tax plan, I am concerned that free and healthy school lunches will be on the chopping block to fund tax cuts for the wealthy."

"Parents and schools have a right to know what a lunch under the National Party will look like. Will it be a piece of white bread and a glass of milk, or will they commit to continuing to feed kids healthy and nutritious lunches? Will parents suddenly have to opt-in, adding a stigma to the programme that could see many children go without?" Hipkins speculated.

"The National Party have proven time and time again that they can't be trusted to fund education.

"Until they're up front with New Zealanders and actually answer some questions about how they'll pay for their tax cuts, New Zealanders have no reason to trust them."