Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

1 Kislev 5763 - November 6, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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One in Five in Poverty
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

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, he said.

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 monthly income.

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."


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