Tuesday 17 August 2021


Well, we're very likely to be heading into another lockdown on the basis of a community case in Auckland.

Back in July, we found that the government had blown a pile of the emergency Covid money on the free school lunch programme. 

The free school lunches programme draws on special Covid recovery funds for another two and a half years, despite Treasury's misgivings about depleting the emergency money reserved against a resurgence of the virus.

The Covid-19 Relief and Recovery fund (CRRF) is a $50 billion pot of money that was established in the early days of the pandemic to respond to the health emergency and its economic fallout.

It's been tapped for a wide range of Covid-19 related expenses, but the Government has also used it for a range of increasingly tangential "Covid recovery" spending, and just $5.1b remained in the kitty at last tally.

Shame that the cupboard's a bit bare.

What did it the school lunch programme buy us? Last week Wednesday, Ministry of Ed dropped the evaluation of the school lunch programme. That evaluation has a cover dated May 2021, so draft findings would have been around before the budget was set.  

What did it find?

The programme had large effects on the proportion of lunches with at least one vegetable, and also reduced the proportion of lunches with sweet snacks. 

It provided a tiny and statistically insignificant decrease in the proportion of kids hungry after lunch. 

But kids who were often hungry after lunch, before the pilot, had larger increases in "being full", and in reported mental wellbeing.

And none of it cashed out into higher attendance rates at school. And improvements in school functioning (paying attention and such) were not statistically significant.

It's not immediately obvious that this pilot warranted expanding for broader rollout. There were existing food-in-school programmes before the government's programme, targeted at hungry kids. So effects weren't ever going to be huge: they'd have to come from kids that those programmes missed, or from improvements in what might have been on offer. 

And regardless of your views of the merits of scaling the thing up, I don't know what the word misappropriation even means when they're able to use emergency Covid spending on school lunch programmes. Might as well fund them out of the Defence vote if you're going to stretch things that far. I mean, some of those kids could be soldiers some day maybe. Is it more of a stretch than doing it out of the Covid budget? And what's the point of doing a pilot if you're just going to ramp the thing up to 11 regardless of whether the pilot shows it to be a good idea? Does anything mean anything anymore?  

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