Poverty in Israel is deepening and people are finding it increasingly difficult to escape the poverty cycle, according to the Alternative Poverty Report the Latet NGO published on Monday.
Some 2,546,000 poor people live in the country, or 31.6 percent of the population, including 1,613,000 adults (29.8% of the total), and 932,000 children (35.1% of the total), according to the findings.
The document present a drastically different picture than last week’s National Insurance Institute report, which found that the poverty rate is in decline. According to the NII report, 1,658,200 Israelis lived in poverty in 2013, among them 432,600 families and 756,900 children – a decline from 23.5% in 2012 to 21.8% in 2013.
Latet, an organization that provides assistance to the needy, has issued the Alternative Poverty Report annually for more than a decade, and says it presents a more insightful picture than the National Insurance Institute
’s annual survey – as it takes a closer look at the daily struggles of the poor. The report was presented on Monday to former president Shimon Peres at a conference at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa.
The report uses the degree of a person’s shortages in five categories – each reflecting essential needs to live with dignity – to determine poverty: housing, education, health, food security and the ability to meet the cost of living.
“As a society we must decide that the fight against poverty is a war of necessity, just like the war against Hamas and Hezbollah,” Latet executive director Eran Weintraub said.
“The status of the middle class is eroding and many are joining the poor. If we want social cohesion and social resilience, we must make sacrifices and fund the fight against poverty.”
Some of the report’s most disturbing items concerned children in needy families.
One out of every three children in Israel in 2014 is poor, the report said. Furthermore, a quarter of children went to sleep hungry at least a few times per month, while 65% do not receive a hot meal at school for lunch.
Also, 65% of impoverished parents were forced to do without medicine or medical treatment for their children at some point in the last year, while 40% of these parents had to do this repeatedly.
More than a third of impoverished children were forced to work in order to help their families financially, and as such some 27% of the children have dropped out of school. In addition, some 32% of impoverished children attended boarding schools in 2014 – a sharp increase compared from 2013, when this figure was 22% Similarly disturbing statistics were reported regarding the elderly.
A vast majority, some 94% of impoverished elderly, said old age allotments are not enough to live in dignity and buy necessities.
The report found that 92% of the elderly cannot afford nursing care or help at home – an increase of 10.8 percentage points from 2013.
Furthermore 56% of the impoverished elderly are unable to afford medicine or medical treatments – an increase of 14 percentage points from 2013, while an additional 56% suffer from poor nutrition because they are unable to afford basic food.
Half of those living in poverty work, the Alternative Poverty Report further indicated.
A majority, 71% of the working needy, earned salaries of up to NIS 4,000 per month, while 20.4% earned less than NIS 2,000 per month. The average monthly salary among the poor stood at NIS 3,488 – less than the minimum wage, which is NIS 4,300.
The report also addressed the increased cost of living and found that of the underprivileged population, 31% came from impoverished families, while 50% came from an “average” socioeconomic background and fell into poverty.
The average expenditure of an impoverished household is NIS 5,795 per month, and NIS 1,933 (33%) of that is spent on food, NIS 1,931 (33%) on housing, NIS 551 (9%) on health expenditures, NIS 342 (5%) on social or cultural activities and NIS 1,038 (18%) on educational expenses.
Ten percent of needy people receiving aid were forced to sleep on the street or in a shelter during the past year; a common occurrence for a third of that 10%, according to the report. Thirty-nine percent of the poor described their living situation as unbearable, and 83% were forced to give up on basic home repairs due to their financial situation.
In addition, 68% of poor people could not afford to use heating or cooling devices during the winter and summer months, respectively, while 54% had their water or electricity disconnected during the past year because they were unable to pay the bill. Sixty-three percent said they were unable to make a payment for rent or on their mortgage during the past year and 36% worry that as a result they will lose their homes.
Some 72.5% of the needy were forced to give up on medicine during the past year because they were unable to afford it. In addition, 66% of them suffer from chronic medical problems, compared to 47% among the general population.
Furthermore, the report found that 72% of the poor suffer from a lack of food, while 49% lack food on a regular basis. As such, 10% of the needy population was forced to search for food in the garbage or beg for food and 80% received food packages from NGOs, according to the Alternative Poverty Report.
The report also discussed the general public’s view of the importance of addressing poverty, saying a third of Israelis believe poverty is the most urgent and important national issue, ahead of security and education.
Seventy-six of the population believes the government is responsible for fighting poverty and reducing the poverty rate, but only 22% believe the government is working to that end, and 55% gave the outgoing government a failing grade on its policies to combat poverty.
“The government must take responsibility. Poverty must be a central issue in the upcoming election. This is our chance to change,” Gilles Darmon, chairman of Latet, said.
“The responsibility is not restricted only to the politicians, but it is also our responsibility to choose the party that will take a stand to deal with poverty. Poverty is the largest party in Israel.”
Darmon addressed the allegations that his organization was “inflating” the data to present a worse picture of poverty in Israel.
“We know [the figures] and we are in the field,” he said. “We will welcome any [additional] research in the field of poverty.”