There is no such thing as a free lunch. And for every child who gets one at school, we know the price they are paying at home is likely to be far greater than the cost of a sandwich.

When kids are turning up to school hungry, one can only imagine what they are trying to cope with at home and what their parents are trying to deal with, or not.

Feeding your child is a parent’s responsibility – there is no ‘should be’ about it. No one can argue with this, but when parents don’t provide, for whatever reason, whose job is it?

What do you do when children come to school hungry and yet they are there to work hard and learn so they can gain their education In this land of milk and honey and child poverty … you feed them.

That’s what schools do, and that’s what they will keep doing. I don’t believe there is a school in the country that’s letting children go hungry. The kids know it, the parents know it, the teachers know it, and the government knows it.

Child poverty is reality for thousands of Kiwi kids. It doesn’t matter what side of the political fence you sit on, no one can ignore it – we all pay for child poverty. One in four New Zealand children, that’s 260,000, live in poverty, going without the basics most of us take for granted.

A survey in Northland showed 22% of students turning up with no or little lunch. Given our region’s demographics compared to Northland, we’d be similar. I’ve talked to enough teachers to know it’s happening here, and not just in low-decile schools.

Charity Kidscan is a conduit for individuals, community, business and Government to work together providing food, clothing and basic healthcare in schools, to enable disadvantaged Kiwi children to reach their potential. It supports thousands of disadvantaged children a day, in 500 low-decile schools nationwide.

Anyone can help. It costs just $15 a month to provide a child with the basics for a year and 100% of your contribution goes to the kids. You know, it used to be about seeing adverts on television to save children in Africa, now it’s about saving children in our own backyard.

It’s obvious that regardless of who is responsible – the problem won’t fix itself. But feeding kids in schools, which is absolutely the right thing to do, is not the answer to child poverty.

It’s about the parents

The only way out is long-term work for parents – yet the days of getting a secure job for a guaranteed 40 hours a week, from the same employer are numbered.

Long-term unemployment has for some people become their life and we have generational welfare dependency where families, with a range of different circumstances, spend their entire lives on benefits.

In our fast-paced changing world where technology is everything, the job market is changing in front of us, but we are slow to react and recognise change. That’s our nature.

It’s not uncommon to find people are now working two or even three part-time, casual or permanent, jobs to make up their income. This will increase dramatically.

I’m not stuck in my ways. I think we should embrace the future of how we work not resist it. No longer having the same job, day after day, doesn’t have to be a bad thing. As we move with the times, it will open us up to more variety and the ability for people to use and learn different skills and gain far more experience. Over time, it means more job opportunities, not less, if we are prepared to roll with it.

The more we accept, adapt and adjust to change, by embracing and taking up the challenges for new and different working options, the better-off we will all be – and the possibilities are endless – if the working week is a thing of the past, why not kick it for touch? We will even see some of the existing balance of control between employer and employee moving … and that certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing.

We are experiencing a revolution in work. This is not going to evolve over decades because technology is leading the way and it’s moving so fast. We have no choice but to keep up.

However, the state welfare system is our Achilles heal. It is broken and holding back those who desperately need to be in a position to get the work as and when it comes.

The present system actually disincentivises people from working, and if you know the system you can ‘work it’. When people crunch the numbers and find out they are only marginally better off working, or even worse off, than staying on a benefit, what type of message is that sending?

Government welfare is meant to help those in need, so that they can have the tools and support needed to progress in life. But it’s not working. If it were, there would not be increasing numbers of children turning up to school hungry.

I’ve never met a child who doesn’t want to learn, they are hungry for it. But to invest in them so we don’t waste their education opportunity, we need to start with their parents getting better working incomes.

We must take a paradigm shift in the way we look at work and welfare. Free lunches for our future generation won’t cut it.

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