“A fiscally responsible government will need to end wasteful policies like Fees-Free and ‘free’ school lunches rather than letting them build up like a welfare lasagne,” says ACT Leader David Seymour, responding to National’s promises to keep both of Labour’s programmes.

“A recent report showed the ‘free’ school lunch programme was wasting $25 million worth of lunches a year.

“Treasury found that up to 10,000 ‘free’ school lunches are wasted each day. The cost of the programme in 2021 was $211 million, meaning up to $25 million was wasted on surplus lunches. Treasury also found no evidence the programme was improving attendance or benefiting Māori, who make up half students in the programme.

“Meanwhile, Fees-Free is an unprincipled bribe that hasn’t delivered results. Labour has spent about $2 billion on Fees-Free since 2017 but the participation rate for 18- and 19-year-olds in tertiary education has increased by just 1 percentage point from 43 to 44 per cent. That is a failure by any standard.

“Fees-Free is unfair because young New Zealanders, many of whom will not benefit from it, will be paying for it for the rest of their lives. It is deeply regressive because it primarily benefits young people from wealthier families who can afford to pay for tertiary education anyway. They’re being funded by less well-off taxpayers whose children are less likely to go into tertiary education. After four years of Fees-Free, the percentage of first year students from lower decile schools (1-5) has dropped from 38 per cent to 28 per cent.

“These programmes are unaffordable because New Zealand is headed for a massive fiscal crunch. The Government took $2.329 billion less revenue in the 11 months to May than Treasury had forecast as recently as the Budget Economic and Fiscal Update. The fiscal situation is only going to get worse, and the next Government will need to take seriously its responsibility to get the books back in shape.

“The next Government must have the courage to reverse Labour’s policies rather than let them stack up like lasagne.

“There’s no shortage of wasteful spending to cut. ACT’s alternative budget shows how to cut $38 billion in four years by cutting waste.

“New Zealanders busy trying to balance their household budgets will be astonished to hear about the insane projects that have grown up like mushrooms under Labour.

“On 14 October, New Zealanders need to evict this desperate and incompetent Government so we can have real change.”

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