On Monday the National Insurance Institute (NII - Bituach
Leumi) released a report stating that 33.77 percent of
families in Israel are poor, compared to 32.27 percent in
2000 and 31.9 percent in 1999. There were 318,900 poor
families last year, with 530,700 children among the 1,169,000
individuals; in 2000, it was 305,000 families, 481,100
children, and 1,088,100 individuals. That is about one in
four children and almost one in five people overall.
At a press conference in his Jerusalem office, Labor and
Social Affairs Minister Shlomo Benizri said that reductions
in child allowances, income supplements, and unemployment
payments last year caused a significant rise in the number of
people below the poverty line -- officially NIS 1,383.70
($291) per person per month -- and that estimates suggest the
figures will rise next year.
At the annual poverty report press conference, where
journalists were served bottles of water rather than the
usual juice and cookies, Benizri and National Insurance
Institute director Yochanan Stessman blamed the deepening
recession, increased inflation, growing unemployment, and
real erosion of wages for the widespread poverty. In 2003,
NII child allowances will lose 22 percent of their purchasing
power, mostly due to cuts in the amounts paid out.
Benizri stressed that many of those under the poverty line
are working at low paying jobs. Since unemployment is so high
and the number of unfilled jobs so inadequate, long-term
programs are difficult to implement and increasing transfer
payments is the only short-term solution to reducing poverty,
The number of working-age families without a breadwinner rose
by 20 percent in the past year, with 35,000 additional
families, most of them with children.
In 2003, government economic policies will further harm 70
percent of the families regarded as poor in 2001, according
to NII predictions. The average family will have NIS 384 less
per month in 2001 terms, which constitutes 12 percent of its
Unless planned cuts are cancelled, in 2003, one in three
children will be poor.
Stessman added that the NII's job is to provide the poorest
residents with transfer payments; it is not the government's
job to reduce them.
The only positive development that Benizri could find in the
report is that pensioners' income was a little higher in 2001
than in 2000, due to an increment in NII allowances.
"We are all on the way to poverty," said Histadrut chairman
Amir Peretz said. "No one can be certain that it won't happen
to him. The crisis can hit any home and every family. It's no
longer the problem only of the weak, but a national problem,
and no less dangerous than the security situation."
One in four children lives below the poverty line, and that
number is likely to grow to almost one in three if the 2003
budget passes, according to the report.
Child and social policy experts blamed the problem on the
poor economy and an even poorer social policy. The Bank of
Israel is predicting higher unemployment and less economic
growth, and at the same time the government is dismantling
the safety net.
Philip Veerman, who heads the Jerusalem office of the Geneva-
based Defense for the Child International, said the number of
calls from parents who can't buy food or school books for
their children is increasing. A report done by his
organization in the spring noted that privatization, combined
with minimal government wealth redistribution efforts, has
created an increasing gap between rich and poor in a country
that once had "one of the most equitable distributions of
wealth in the democratic world."