COVID-19 crisis leading to potential hunger crisis

Child Poverty Action Group is releasing research today showing that families' most basic need - of having access to good food - continues to be difficult for families on low income.

Aotearoa, land of the long wide bare cupboard is a seven-part series of papers examining the problems children face living in food insecure households.

This week CPAG is releasing four new papers, following the three released last year in November, all of which can be found on our website here -

This latest research looks at how food insecurity impacts children and young people’s health and wellbeing, how it impacts tamariki Māori, how COVID-19 has exacerbated existing issues and the final piece examines how the Government can ensure its recently expanded Free and Healthy School Lunches programme can effectively target food insecurity.

CPAG’s Health spokesperson Professor Elaine Rush says this series of papers highlights the unfairness of both the current welfare system and the food system.

"Although families are trying their best, many are so under-resourced they can’t provide their kids with the food they need. Parents - particularly mothers - often skip meals to make sure their children can eat. They need more support than they are currently getting."

Associate Professor Jennifer Utter’s paper Food Insecurity among Young People in New Zealand shows the importance of food to a young person’s life is multifaceted.

"Having easy access to an adequate supply of nutritious foods is critical to the healthy development of children and adolescents," she says.

"Young people who miss out on the opportunity to eat regular meals and share meals with their families may find it difficult to learn about basic food-related life skills."

Christina McKerchar’s paper Food insecurity and Māori research, rhetoric, racism and rights , focuses on the high rates of Māori food insecurity and argues that several different strategies must be implemented to address the impact of food insecurity for Maori children.

"Income inequity means that about one quarter of tamariki Māori are growing up with inadequate nutrition, due to the higher costs of healthy food," says McKerchar.

"Among the changes needed, we need a national food strategy to address food poverty, set benefit levels and subsidies to include sufficient amounts for food and ensuring social services treat people humanely.

"We need to implement all these strategies to address the impact of food insecurity for all children, but particularly tamariki Maori."

CPAG researcher Caitlin Neuwelt-Kearns’s paper An outbreak of hunger: the spread of food insecurity in a time of COVID-19 focuses on the impact of COVID-19 on food insecurity.

"We must be intentional and strategic. While the world is changing, the transformation of our economic system for the better is not inevitable," she says.

"Benefit levels must be raised further to meet the Welfare Expert Advisory Group’s recommendations, enabling beneficiaries - the numbers of whom are growing by the day - a dignified standard of living."

Becky Little and Laurie Wharemate-Keung’s paper, We can build the Zero Hunger Generation in our new COVID-19 World , applauds the Government for extending the Free and Healthy School Lunch Programme to 200,000 children, with the hope that it finally establishes a vital safety net that has been long been missing for our children and income support for their families.

However, as their paper sets out, to create the foundation for the Zero Hunger Generation, it is imperative now that this new national programme is implemented in the right way.

"We are on our way. Now we need to see a programme that has clear standards and well defined outcomes which are underpinned by ethics and child rights. This ensures we develop a successful, trusted programme that is sustainable and has advancing dignity, empowerment and wellbeing for our tamariki firmly at its heart"

CPAG Social Security spokesperson Associate Professor Mike O’Brien reiterates that this time of crisis is an opportunity for immediate action from the Coalition Government.

"It is time for the Government to put the well-being of all people first, and make meaningful increases for those on very low incomes as well as ensuring all people have equitable access to healthy and nutritious food."