(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Welfare and Social Services Ministry’s budget for the coming year is set to stand at NIS 8 billion, the Knesset Finance Committee announced on Tuesday.
Amid the rising tensions in the coalition and the threat of elections, the Knesset Finance Committee met to discuss the upcoming 2015 budget, beginning with the Welfare Ministry.
Knesset Finance Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) and Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen called on the coalition members to “put aside their differences in order to act together” to decide on the budget.
“The budget of the Welfare and Social Services Ministry significantly increased after years that the ministry was neglected, as of today the ministry’s you’ll hear the ministry’s voice more often. Our main efforts are concentrated on tackling poverty,” Cohen said at the meeting.
“The hot potato of poverty is associated with all government ministries. We must strengthen the standing of social workers.
We must relieve from their shoulders the issue of taking children out of their homes and provide financing for [low-income] families to appeal [the decision]. With regards to foster care laws, in most countries 80 percent of children go to foster homes and 20% to orphanages, in Israel it is the exact opposite,” he said.
According to Cohen, one of his main goals is to abolish the ministry’s matching program for low-income municipalities by 2016. To date, the ministry provides municipalities with 75% of the budget for welfare services, while the remaining 25% is matched by local authorities. During Operation Protective Edge, Cohen began abolishing the policy for municipalities within a 7 km. radius of Gaza.
Welfare and Social Services Ministry director-general Yossi Silman also emphasized the ministry’s commitment to fight poverty at the committee hearing.
“Central is the struggle against poverty, including developing policy and tools for coping and responding to youth and women exploited in prostitution, increasing preparedness with regards to the increase of the elderly population,” he said.
Other goals include “implementing the Silman report on foster care, providing assistance to people with employment barriers, developing community services for people with disabilities, developing the community surrounding Gaza, as a lesson learned from Operation Protective Edge regarding the role of social workers in emergency situations,” he said.
In June, the Committee to Fight Poverty headed by Eli Alalouf released long-awaited recommendations to combat poverty, totaling an estimated NIS 7b. to implement.
The committee, which was appointed by Cohen, called to reduce the poverty rates by 40% to reach the OECD average of 11% within 10 years.
The only way to accomplish this goal is to adopt and begin implementing all the recommendations within the next three to five years, according to the committee.
The committee was responsible for making recommendations on the actions required by the state to combat poverty in all aspects of life.
Yet despite the recommendations, the government will only allocate NIS 8b. to the ministry, not nearly enough to implement all the necessary recommendations on top of the ministry’s regular expenditures.
According to Hanan Pritzky, director of the budgetary division in the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, the ministry’s budget grew from NIS 4.8b. in 2012 to NIS 6.1b. in 2014 solely with regards to welfare services.
The ministry’s budget would encompass some NIS 1.44b.
to assist children and youth at risk, NIS 546 million for supervision and ministry staff, NIS 549m. for the rehabilitation of criminals and addicts, NIS 2.34b. for services to the disabled population, NIS 168m. to help low-income families and NIS 243m. for assistance to the elderly, he said.