Executive Summary

Over the past two decades, media reports have episodically drawn public attention to the hunger faced by thousands of New Zealand children who regularly attend primary school without sufficient food provisions to sustain them for the day.  The result is the perpetuation of inequality and intergenerational poverty, as behavioural and cognitive research has consistently linked inadequate food consumption with poor educational outcomes.

The government has promoted the importance of a well-educated citizenry to the New Zealand economy.  Yet, there has been little official acknowledgement of the persisting problem that many children are inadequately fed during the school day, or recognition of the government’s role in addressing this as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Through the application of the analytical framework of government failure, this policy report considers the case for the state provision of free primary school lunches by investigating inadequacies in existing policy responses.  Drawing lessons from the school lunch programmes delivered in England, Italy and Sweden, comparative institutional analysis is employed to assess whether such provision should be universal or targeted.

It is ultimately recommended that the government allocates dedicated funding to community-led provision of free lunches to all students at decile 1-3 primary schools.