Matt Nolan delves into poverty, looking at what it is, where it is, how to combat it, child poverty and more

This week's Top 10 is a guest post from Matt Nolan, an economist at Infometrics, and a contributor at the blog site TVHE.

As always, we welcome your additions in the comments below. If you're interested in contributing a Top 10 yourself, contact

See all previous Top 10s here.

For today’s Top 10 I’m aiming to run through some thoughts about poverty. Understandably poverty is an issue we feel emotional about, but in order to make sure that we are talking about the same issue - and helping those we intend to help - it is important that we are thorough when thinking about what the issue is.

Now this issue is much more detailed and multifaceted than I can cover - and much more data is found in the links in the final point. But I just want to discuss how, even though everyone in New Zealand appears to care about poverty and child poverty, we can justifiably believe very different things about the solution/policy goals.

  1. What is poverty?

Poverty occurs when a group lacks something that is deemed necessary for a member of that group. As a result, it is a concept that definitively points to a bad outcome for an individual.

However, defined this way poverty is too wide a concept to be of much use for saying policy should take an interest. Six figure income households will often consider themselves poor by this definition because they can’t afford the same car as their neighbours. Religious leaders will talk of a poverty of morality. 

As a result, to talk about policy for poverty requires defining what a need is and limiting the discussion to such necessities.

Even then history has shown that there has been a long debate about who is responsible for poverty, and even whether it is bad!

The modern thought that drives policy comes from the concept of capabilities as defined by Amartya Sen:

Poverty is not just a lack of money; it is not having the capability to realize one's full potential as a human being (from Development as Freedom).

In this way, people have a human right to not be in poverty - in terms of having the capability to achieve a socially agreed minimum standard. This differs from how we measure poverty, which is whether people have a level of income that meets some minimum level. This distinction is central to the debate.

  1. Relative and absolute poverty?

As we’ve defined it for this Top 10, poverty is the absence of something that is viewed as necessary to meet some commonly agreed standard of life.

Given this, someone is in absolute poverty when they do not have access to some fixed basket of goods and services that define necessity. Meanwhile, someone is in relative poverty when their income is lower than some proportion of average income.

On the face of it relative poverty measures appear to miss the point - as a society gets wealthier the relative poverty line will rise even though the income needed to get some basket of needs does not. However, it captures a problem with absolute poverty measures - as the distribution of incomes and social structures changes through time, what is necessary changes.

If we were to think about poverty in the way we’ve defined it above there will be both absolute and relative elements. As well as the absolute element of needing food and shelter, as society becomes wealthier, then in order to take part in social situations people need to be able to spend more - if those who are poor see their access to these social resources decline then they are excluded from part of social life.

This distinction still doesn’t solve the argument around responsibility - should these necessities be provided externally, or do people have a reciprocal responsibility to sacrifice something to meet them? This is where the importance of capability comes in, do people have the ability and opportunity to meet this standard.

Furthermore even if outcomes measure the full capability that people have there are clear issues with such measures. How do we capture differences in need (eg someone with a disability requiring higher costs to get to work)? How do we determine what is necessary?

The following discussion has to focus on the measures we have - and this shortcoming, and the importance of targeting need where we can, needs to be kept in mind.

  1. Why do we care about these types of poverty?

Here we could make some argument about how people in need will commit crime, or how the existence of poverty hurts our moral fabric, or how we are all worse off when there is poverty. But those arguments are trite. To be honest, we care about poverty as defined here because in a modern society living in a situation where you cannot achieve a certain minimum standard is a violation of your human rights. Within ourselves we know that a society that does not do that is failing and almost everyone would see poverty in this way.

This is where the concept of poverty differs from many of the other cost-benefit, or utilitarian, concepts that economists normally think about.

Given this view of apoverty, the concept we care about is that everyone has the opportunity to secure the minimum standard.

Now people on the left and the right will believe this argument supports their view of poverty alleviation. On the right people will say that many individuals do have the opportunity to move out of poverty but choose not to - outcomes are the result of a choice, not of poverty. On the left people will say that many individuals' outcomes are a fair representation of the opportunities available to the poor, and as a result active policy is necessary.

Evidence isn’t sufficient to bridge the gap between these sides as there are two questions unanswered. What is the appropriate minimum material standard? How much of someone’s time should they be willing to sacrifice to achieve this minimum standard? 

And finally, as mentioned earlier the difficult factor is trying to determine how needs differ across individuals. Due to misfortune some people require more resources to achieve a given quality of life than others. For all the restrictions to benefits put in place during the 1991 Mother of All Budgets the Invalid’s Benefit was the one benefit that was not cut, and supplementary assistance (eg subsidies for the provision of oxygen machines) was intended to be increased.

Ultimately, both the left and right care about poverty. The difference stems from a view regarding how much time and effort a person should be willing to sacrifice in order to meet necessities in the modern world.

  1. Global and national poverty lines.

When it comes to poverty in the strictest sense it makes sense to treat every person equally. If we view people as equals when it comes to meeting the necessities of life then global poverty is the relevant way to consider the issue. So what does the global income distribution look like? Note:  Go here for a cool interactive version of this graph.

When looking at global poverty, high income countries are virtually unaffected - and those that are aren’t who we imagine as poor, instead being the asset rich self-employed experiencing a single bad year. 

To give this some context, someone in the bottom 1% of wage earners in the highest income countries (eg the Netherlands) would be comfortably in the top 5% in some of these poorest countries.  This is astonishing.

A common refrain when faced with the depth of global poverty is to see relative poverty in high income nations as a relative non-issue. However, outside of immigration policy the welfare of citizens of other countries is largely outside of our control. Institutions, such as respect for property rights, need to be developed and even after all of this human and physical capital needs to be accumulated. 

Although it is a tragedy that such endemic poverty exists overseas, it does not imply that we cannot say that - as a national community - the minimum standard we have is too low.

In this context there are two reasons why someone requires a higher income within a high income nation to escape poverty. Firstly, prices are higher for goods and services - a factor that is corrected for in the above graph. Secondly, people also value the magnitude of the difference between them and those around them - if you are in a wealthy country and you are very poor then you feel socially excluded. The wealthier the nation, the more resources you require to function in society - and it is that level that people need the capability to achieve.

  1. Poverty and policy:  Predistribution vs redistribution.

All this discussion about how we define and why we might care about poverty still doesn’t tell us what can be done - but it gives us the information we need to consider what appropriate policy is.

Assuming that poverty can be assuming adequate incomes (and thereby trusting the consumption choices of people) there is an underlying debate about how this adequate level can be meet, how it differentiates between different types of needs, and what the costs of this provision are. 

In broad terms the choices are between predistribution and redistribution of income. Predistributionalist policies aim to change bargaining power between groups in order to change the distribution of income. Meanwhile redistributionary policies apply taxes and transfers to a given distribution of income in order to change its distribution.

A simpler way of stating it is that predistribution refers to all the ways government policies can change the distribution of income excluding taxes and transfers (eg minimum wage, competition policy, industry subsides), while redistribution refers solely to the role of taxes and transfers.

For poverty the clearest distinction between these two can be seen in the discussion regarding a higher minimum (or living) wage and increases in benefit payments. A higher minimum wage is a predistributionalist policy, an increase in benefit payments a redistributionalist policy.

In most countries policy makers have followed redistribution policies over the past thirty years. The justification for this is that such policies ensure that a minimum income standard is met without impacting directly on economic efficiency or horizontal equity: namely by not changing relative prices or focusing policy on one group above another.

Using this example some may prefer predistributionalists arguments, stating that those who “deserve” to earn more due to being employed will receive more. However, the higher the mimimum wage gets the more people who would be willing to work would find themselves without jobs - they are also “deserving” in this view and yet have lower income due to no fault of their own.  Furthermore, those with severe disabilities are hardly undeserving, and yet no changes to the way workers are remunerated will assist them. As a result, we need to ask what poverty we are trying to address to make sense of income policy prescriptions.

Poverty is a multi-dimensional concept that affects people differently. As a result, policy must be tailored to the group that is in need - with a clear admission of the cost involved. All countries use a mix of predistributionalist and redistributionalist policies and it would be preferable to talk about how the individual policies achieve outcomes for the groups we are targeting, rather than stating that one is preferable for shifting an aggregate measure like a “poverty line”.

  1. Poverty and policy:  Income policies vs direct provision.

The discussion above took poverty as an issue of income adequacy. The issue was assumed to be that people lack sufficient income for their needs to be met.

However, this involves two assumptions about the household that we may not agree about. That the individuals in the family have the foresight to spend the income on these necessary goods, and that income is shared/spent within the family that allows for all members to have their needs met. If a type of family does not provide resources to one of its members for one of those reasons then having the government directly provide the necessity could be a solution.

There are costs to direct provision which need to be taken into consideration. Lack of competition implies that the products may be provided at a higher cost, lack of a price signal implies that we lose information about the varieties of tastes and needs of individuals - thereby reducing their choice (and in some way their capabilities) as a result. But the existence of costs does not make the idea meaningless.

One additional area where direct provision can be preferable is where ‘bad luck which society is willing to take the burden of’ occurs - as this bad luck indicates differential needs, and providing to cover this bad luck is targeting individuals based on these needs. An example of this comes from government health care provision. There are many specific issues involved in such provision, and this is also a broader issue than poverty - but directly providing goods and services is a contribution to reducing poverty which is also not captured in line poverty measures.

  1. What is child poverty?

In New Zealand discussion of poverty itself never gained much traction, but the concept of child poverty has - with our new Prime Minister the Minister for Child Poverty Reduction.

In theory child poverty is when the child lacks sufficient access to resources to meet their needs. However, children don’t earn money, receive benefits, or generally make purchases. As a result, the measurement of child poverty is when families with a child lack sufficient resources to meet their needs.

As a result, theoretical child poverty could occur if either family income is too low, or income sharing within the family involves insufficient care for the needs of the child.

Furthermore, our intuitive view of child poverty would consider access to all resources - including health care, education, the quality of housing. But the absolute and relative poverty line measures that are used are again focused only on the incomes of those families - not on non-income provision or sharing within families.

  1. Why do we care about child poverty?

There are two key reasons why the concept of child poverty gets more attention:

  • People do not see children as responsible for the fact they are missing necessities, and as a result they feel more sympathy for the children than adults.
  • Poverty as a child has a larger negative impact on lifetime wealth and happiness than the experience of poverty as an adult - through its impact on choices made in the child's formative years.

In this way, the theoretical view of child poverty is the one that most people would care about. 

Viewing child poverty this way helps us to understand why some people focus on “bad parents” rather than the income adequacy of the family - and if that is the belief of certain people, it makes sense why they may find income child poverty measures as indicators that miss the point, as they capture relative income of families not the way the child is treated within the family.

When discussing child poverty in New Zealand there has been an effort to discuss income and material deprivation (eg the Child Poverty Monitor website). 

In this instance the focus of child poverty is on both income and material measures, but due to a lack of data the time trends are mostly focused on income measures - and they are relative income measures. 

This is great information and completely appropriate, but I want to note where people in society may see these measures as inappropriate.

With a relative measure, a child who is in poverty now may be in a better material situation than a child who was not in poverty was 30 years ago. This shows us a weakness with these measures - many people who grew up with less will feel aggrieved that children with more will now get assistance, viewing that not as a necessity but a want. This is where the fact that poverty is both an absolute as well as relative concept becomes important.

Furthermore, when material hardship is noted there will be those that criticise the family - rightly or wrongly.

Everyone cares about child poverty, but people differ in their view of the opportunities families have to deal with issues of child hardship. Ultimately, clear evidence about what is going on is necessary before we can say anything about policy.

  1. Child poverty and policy.

Poverty policy involving children appears simpler at first brush - as there is a larger consensus that an active role for the state is appropriate. However, as foreshadowed above the existence of a family unit makes this more complex.

As can be seen in the language used in this article by Mike Yardley, when we discuss poverty in relation to the adult of a family our attitudes are much harsher than when we talk about a child.  And yet for a benefit payment or any type of income support these are two sides of the same coin. Note:  I am not criticising the article - just using it as an example of how our language changes.

Ultimately, the underlying human rights that people are concerned about with child poverty are the rights of the child. As a result, solutions - and potential pitfalls - come from the way society ensures that the child gets access to the resources they require.

If the largest concern with providing adequate income to meet a child’s needs is that some parents will use the income themselves, then directly providing goods and services to a child solves this. If the concern is that the household itself is too poor, irrespective of the material wellbeing of the child, then the solution is income transfers.

If we go down the road of direct provision for children then the costs mentioned earlier still hold. It can be more expensive as vendors take advantage of having a captive market. Also every family is different and the family unit is best placed to recognise many of these differences and spend money accordingly. 

To solve this some people suggest a voucher or card system. But the risk then becomes that the families we are concerned with will not provide for children and people will sell the vouchers for cash.  Adding ID requirements to the system may solve this, but then this requirement undermines the self worth of those who require assistance - creating the social exclusion we fear from poverty in the first place!

What about taking children from their families and making sure they have an equal start to life - same food, same schooling, same upbringing! I do not think this is a road we would like to go down (I find it abhorrent), and yet it is the only solution that removes relative disadvantage.

As a result, getting resources to children is not an easy policy issue - but if we are going to make it a priority as a society we need to start talking about the trade-offs that exist through forms of provision to meet a standard, and be careful not to believe that there is one policy that rules them all.

  1.  Does New Zealand have child poverty?

Is this even a relevant question for New Zealand? Well, the data does suggest that there is deprivation that we need to be aware of - and we need to face whether, as a society, we believe this is just or not.

For understanding the development of child poverty in New Zealand I’ve relied upon a book named “Child Poverty in New Zealand” by Jonathon Boston and Simon Chapple. For a more indepth discussion of the issue than the cursory outline I’ve given in this Top 10 I’d suggest a read. Furthermore, more up-to-date figures can be found here. Very cool infographics live here.

To indicate why it is child poverty rather than poverty more generally that gets more attention in New Zealand, this graph from (which is sourced from Brian Perry’s Household Incomes Report) is useful:

If we work through the data and believe there is a real issue of child poverty now we need to be consistent. Child poverty has always existed in New Zealand, but we now believe that society is sufficiently wealthy meaning the existence of such a situation is unjust.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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Very interesting. In fact despite reading it very slowly it deserves at least a couple of re-reads. I started determined to pick fault but I only noticed a couple of very minor issues worth discussion. This article deserves to be in a monthly magazine not a daily ephemeral media.

Before I read it I was going to write "Poverty is like jazz or discrimination - impossible to define but I know it when I hear it.".

Looking forward to reading other comments. It will be hard to write something that doesn't seem facile compared to the post.

The current government seems pretty good at squandering wealth to make a part of society feel rich in short term but leaving everyone else to pay back in long run.

"The past government seemed pretty good at squandering wealth to make a part of society feel rich in short term but leaving everyone else to pay back in long run."
I edited your comment made a couple of typos.

I suggest replacing "seemed" with "was".


"part of society feel rich in short term but leaving everyone else to pay back in long run" this is exactly what the National government did for 9 years

Labour party created a big hole during the era up to 2008.

Compounded with the GFC in the same year and Chch earthquake later, National had to find way to fill up the hole created by Labour, which partially contributed to the rapid increase in house prices.

I would argue that if Labour did not leave such a big hole for National to fill up, we would not see such a rapid increase in house prices.

you can keep arguing with yourself all you want... do you know the symptom of that?

National didn't reduce Labour's spending much at all, suggesting they agreed with how they'd allocated money - despite their incoming bluster. Now New Zealand is finding that there are big issues caused by deferred investment into the infrastructure and services NZers expect. Cans seem to have been kicked down the road for others to pick up...maybe for all National's talk about cutting taxes, people actually expect functioning services and infrastructure too?

National's philosophy was to enrich the high paid people and wealthy property investors, both here and overseas, and then the "trickle down" theory would apply thus eliminating poverty.

They seriously believed this !!

Poverty has to be put in a world wide context. In some eastern European countries people have to eat bark off trees and drive around in horse and cart.

New Zealand comparison at the extreme a hand full of people sleep in luxurious vehicals and have a pocket full of Winz money and supermarkets full of food at every corner!

There is NO poverty in New Zealand!

That sounds like a race to the bottom argument - my poverty is worse than your poverty. Poverty is relative to the norms of a society. Your argument sounds more like an attempt to deny and ignore as inconvenient what it is actually like in New Zealand.

"There is NO poverty in NZ" There are none so blind as those that will not see.

"I know what real poverty is! I've seen it through the taxi window while on holiday! NZ's poor don't know how good they've got it!"

I have seen it in places where there are not even taxis. But poverty is relative and just because other nations have less than us that is no reason to allow such poverty in a land with rich resources and enormously fewer people.

I agree. I was paraphrasing a typical view spouted.

I've worked in poverty alleviation in the Third World and the biggest lesson it taught me was the reality of and the ramifications of relative poverty align very comparably to the effects of absolute poverty in the Third World.

(Excluding famines, obviously.)

Relative poverty is not something we should be dismissing, just because we mostly don't have Kiwi kids foraging through an open dump to gather plastic to recycle into cents with which they can help feed their siblings. Our relative poverty is not some meaningless made up concept - it's a reality with serious consequences and symptoms.

Couldn't agree more. There are no winners in a race to the bottom.

When I was young I travelled overseas and saw abject poverty.
This was a wake up call for me as I did not want to end up like these people.
Since then I value money and what I have and do not waste it. on frivolous things as others do.

'Targeted poverty alleviation'

NZ may learn a thing or two.

Why do we have to suddenly start dealing with societies problems now? For almost a decade we buried our heads in the sand and pretended such extreme social inequalities didn't exist...can we not just, you know, do that again?

" For almost a decade we buried our heads in the sand..."

Actually we've been ignoring the big problems for near 40 years ....

Also the street sleepers you see in the major cities are there to make money and drink and smoke with mental issues so that is NOT poverty!

Using this word poverty is a political and media driven lie to make the Working Class feel bad about owning an asset and then apply TAX as punishment to gain more revenue!

Also the street sleepers you see in the major cities are there to make money and drink and smoke with mental issues so that is NOT poverty!

Good lord, it's one of these folk, in the wild!

I found the article very interesting but was disappointed that Matt as fallen into a too narrow paradigm on what poverty is. Most people define poverty, and Matt does this, as a lack of resources. But when I look around me, particularly at children that appear to live in poverty, it is not money they are lacking, but decent parents. Their parents appear to have ample funds to go to the pub, buy cigarettes, play the pokies, have a flash cell phone and so on, but their kids are going hungry, don't have a decent pair of shoes to wear.Poverty should not be restrained to financial resources.

Poverty can come from poor parenting, the inability to make good choices, to have an ability to commit - to jobs, to how you spend your money, to relationships, to be able to deal effectively with emotions like anger and frustration. giving money is not always a good solution. So solutions must be creative and genuinely look at , as Matt does identify, what really constitutes poverty.

Unfortunately none of the political parties has the guts to stop child poverty at the root... before the child is born. Anyone living on the DPB or Dole should have to be on contraceptive implants. If you can't feed yourself and your existing rugrats without a handout, you shouldn't be allowed to produce more. No religious exemptions either, only genuine medical ones.

Yes. If society allows women/partners to have more children than they can support, then perforce we must help pay for them unless we desire a lot more crime and associated violence.

Do you include Working for Families "handouts"?

Do I include WFF in the category of a handout - yes. Do I think that those receiving WFF tax credits should be on compulsory implants.. hmm, hard call, how about if the WFF tax credits (handout) is bigger than your earned income they get implants? We shouldn't as a society accept a cost of living /minimum wage ratio where one fulltime working parent and a part time working parent can't adequately provide for a child or maybe two. But we also can't encourage those who are struggling to support themselves adequately to have 5 kids and expect the rest of us to pay for their lifestyle choice.

This is far bigger than just "poverty". It is also about meaningful jobs that provide a reasonable standard of living. We are today into multiple generations of people at the lower end of society, grew up with parents on a benefit and have no aspiration do any other. So Poverty is about many of the things that Labour are talking about, but they will take far longer to address effectively than many realise. Our entire societal model needs to change so that people can and feel that they contribute to society, rather than feel that they are just the refuse that people would rather ignore, with the anger that goes with it. Dealing with these problems effectively will also deal with increasing crime effectively, numbers of people in prison and so on.

More thoughts on this..The Political word "Poverty" used by Labour to successfully gain power via a minority voted party. The media embrace this word Poverty as a headliner that sells and people fall for it every time.

There is no Poverty in New Zealand!

At best differences in wealth from the rich guy with the super yacht to a Landlord providing accommodation to their community to the people who sleep in a luxurious car or van with Winz money in their pockets!

Labour are now paying the poor boomers' power bills now. They'll be sure to get the votes of the new students in 3 years too. As for everyone in between those two camps - Labour just told them to go !@# themselves. Except for solo mothers, they can make babies with men they just met.

@ Redford. Spoken like a true dark lord!

What about taking children from their families and making sure they have an equal start to life - same food, same schooling, same upbringing! I do not think this is a road we would like to go down (I find it abhorrent), and yet it is the only solution that removes relative disadvantage.

No it doesn't. As a solution it is both abhorrent and useless.

Children are people (kind of obvious) and have differing preferences. Enforcing a complete uniformity to their upbringing would disadvantage larger numbers of children than the current norms.

Here's a statement released today by Jacinda Ardern;

Prime Minister welcomes support for child poverty approach


Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern supports the call from a wide range of groups for a non-partisan approach to reducing child poverty.


“Labour is committed to introducing legislation in our first 100 days to establish targets and measure progress in reducing child poverty.


“Every government should have at the core of its objectives, the aim to lift children out of poverty.


“All our work should be geared towards this, regardless of our political views. No government should be afraid of being measured in this way.


“Every child should be able to grow up and reach their potential without the burden of poverty.


“I intend to reach out to the Opposition over coming weeks to talk through our draft legislation. I hope it receives widespread support.


“It’s time for a durable, long-term commitment to tackling child poverty and I’m keen to lead the way,” says Prime Minister Ardern.

In general we exchange our time for the production of income.
That income could be quite sufficient for the person earning it to cover their basic needs and fulfill their goals etc.

But along comes the redistributionists who don't want to have to work (as in create something of value with which to trade in the market place) they invent and promote policies which create public focus on issues.....this is attention seeking........they then con hard working people into a system of compulsory donations via an invented system of taxes, fees, licenses etc......

The innocent working person exchanging time for earnings might have started his/her week with e.g. $1000.00 but then comes the income taxes, GST, fees, licenses etc......and the original $1000.00 per week that was sufficient to provide all the basic needs and wants is now half and insufficient for intended purposes.......for every poverty stricken working person there are a plethora of others tucking in at the trough.......most poverty is by design.

I can think of a thousand ways to make money in NZ all of which are simple but the regulatory regime prohibits or makes it so costly that it is not affordable to undertake such schemes......and therein lies NZ's poverty problem the right to self-determination has been stolen by lazy people who refuse to trade real goods and services preferring instead to be at the public trough!

It is a violation of human rights to not have the right to self-determination!
A human right is only taken away because of its value to someone else!
Those in poverty are the people who have fallen through the gap created by the State.

I work for the Salvation Army and see a lot of people who are scrapping the barrel for money to live. Most of these also have had really hard lives as children from a lack of parenting, abuse and marriage fallout due to violence, alcohol and drug abuse, which they get into to make themselves feel good. ( instead of having parents that can love them and take good care of them and teach them about the work ethic, moral standards etc) . It is the lack of moral standards that are causing people to live in poverty and any pre or re distribution policies are just short term policies to try and plug the gap. Its the moral principles that we live by the drive our wealth. Some on this blog are correct to say there should never be any poverty in this country which is rich in resources. To correct the effects of abuse, we have to throw resource at it to provide learning for those that are in these situations and ways of thinking and teach them how to live their lives to have plenty.

Ensuring those children who are in need, have enough to eat, are clothed properly and have the opportunity of education is just one step (a good one), but being in a loving and caring environment is the part that we expect parents to provide, but many dont.

Hence our "poverty" problem is a many faceted problem. As Jesus said, "There will always be the poor". I think we just have to battle away, try and bring into our education system some sort of moral ethics teaching, that shows what happens when we dont have these principles to live by. Its both a material, educational and spiritual issue. Sorry but any parent who is taking "P" needs their kids taken off them so that those kids dont get affected by this drug and also to ensure they, at least, get the material and educational resources that they need.

Good on you mate, you do a great job. You may enjoy this from Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

I did enjoy that, indeed. Says it all....

I believe an excellent start to addressing child poverty would be to provide all school children with free nutritious breakfast and lunch..I believe there are countries already doing this. If necessary perhaps benefits to parents could be trimmed to pay for/subsidise the cost. This is the only way to create a level playing field as far as child nutrition is concerned. No control how parents choose to spend benefits paid to them which is intended for the benefit of their children. Anyone know how this type of program works in other countries?

Far too sensible; rough-shod over the right to choose...