WA Labor Government must provide extra support to address increasing numbers of kids going hungry

January 31, 2024 10:00 AM
Libby Mettam
WA Liberal Leader
Neil Thomson
Shadow Minister for Planning; Environment; Lands; Heritage

The WA Liberal Party is calling on the Cook Labor Government to better fund charities providing food relief to schools after new figures show a surge in the number of children going to class hungry amid cost-of-living pressures.

WA Liberal Leader Libby Mettam said the demand for the School Breakfast Program, run by charities across the State, had increased markedly in recent years with the program now being delivered at 524 schools, up from 501 in 2022, and many in areas not previously affected. 

“Schools in our northern suburbs such as Warwick, Carine, Greenwood and Marangaroo are now asking for help with some of these reporting a 200 per cent increase in demand over the past year,” Ms Mettam said. 

“But this is clearly just the tip of the iceberg in terms of need, and we know that many children are also going without lunch and that teachers and school canteens are increasingly paying for school lunches.  

“Unfortunately, we are now seeing this literally eat into school resources and teachers’ pockets, further impacting teachers’ ability to do their job.

“At a time where the Cook Labor Government is enjoying the largest boom in the State’s history, it's inexcusable that increasing pressure is being put on schools because struggling Western Australians have not received meaningful cost of living support.”

Ms Mettam said charities such as Foodbank were best placed to provide further food relief for lunches, taking the pressure off the schools and teachers, but there seemed to be little interest from the   government to provide it. 

“While Labor has provided extra funds for the breakfast program, it is only just the start,” she said.  

“The government’s own Hungry for Change: Addressing food insecurity for children and young people affected by poverty inquiry released last year made several recommendations to address the issue but they were mostly ignored. 

“I am calling on the government to at least consider some of the recommendations, such as a pilot lunch program at selected schools run by charities like Foodbank, that could address some of the issues.

“Th has been run in other jurisdictions as a way of improving attendance and education outcomes, while also taking the pressure off schools and teachers. 

“The government can’t continue to turn a blind eye to the issue. It has the capacity and the means to provide this targeted relief to enable charities to assist those requiring this most basic need.”

Ms Mettam said at the very least a review of how many WA schools were using their own funds to provide free food for students should be undertaken, as recommended by the inquiry. 

“The Education Minister can’t continue to stick his head in the sand on this issue and expect schools and teachers to cover the shortfall,” she said.

Member for the Mining and Pastoral Region Neil Thomson, who was part of the committee that undertook the inquiry, said a targeted lunch pilot program could be considered in areas of low school attendance to provide another tool to teachers trying to connect with disengaged students.

“In areas of the Kimberley, there has been a collapse of school attendance across many schools and this is going to leave a long lasting and negative legacy for our endeavours to remove disadvantage and reduce youth crime,” Mr Thomson said. 

“Educators who have these programs have reported better attendance, classroom harmony and improved concentration on lessons.

“It has also been reported that some children feel embarrassed about attending school when they do not have lunch provided by their parent.

“Regardless of the causes, children should be given the opportunity to a good education.”

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