Poverty rates among the elderly are morally unbearable, Eli Alalouf, head of the Committee for the Fight Against Poverty, said on Tuesday.
He made this remark during the general plenum assembly in Holon, where the committee heard testimonies regarding poverty among the Beduin and elderly populations.
The committee first heard from Gilad Samama, the Senior Citizens Ministry’s general-director, who presented an overview of the condition of senior citizens in Israel.
According to Samama, Israel has one of the highest poverty rates among the elderly, around 23 percent, in comparison to the OECD average of nearly 13%.
Samama addressed what he called the “new elderly,” people between the ages of 65 and 80 who have retired or are close to retiring but who are healthy and continue to lead active lives.
He said the state needs to learn how to best assist and utilize the vast knowledge and expertise of this group in order to better society and help them transition into old age with dignity and good socio-economic standing.
As such, Samama called on the committee to recommend an increase in the allowances for the elderly and said the “public spirit” is behind the effort to improve their conditions.
He said that the ministry would act to push this agenda forward within the government and urged the committee to do what is right, without taking budgetary restrictions into account.
“I wanted the committee to release a report that is not specific to any populations or sectors of society,” said Alalouf.
“The Beduin are the most neglected population in the country and because of this I thought it important to receive a presentation of their status,” he said.
The committee also heard from Yariv Man of The Headquarters for Economic & Community Development of the Negev Beduin in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Man said the headquarters was established in September 2011 and was tasked in part to develop a five-year plan for economic growth of the Beduin and incorporate them into Israeli economic and social society.
“The development of the Negev includes the Beduin, they are a part of the Negev,” said Man.
According to Man, there are some 220,000 Beduin living in the Negev. This population has a growth rate of 4%, one of the highest in the country – with 60% of the population under the age of 17.
Some 80.1% of Beduin children and some 72.6% of families were living in poverty, according to statistics from 2008.
In addition, Man said that in 2011 only 12.5% of Beduin women were employed in the workforce and only 29.1% of Beduin youth were eligible for matriculation exams, compared to 66.6% of the Jewish population (excluding the ultra-Orthodox who maintain a rate of 8.2%).
He said there are seven Beduin local authorities, all of which are categorized as category one or two according to the Central Bureau of Statistics – which ranks municipalities across the country according to their socio-economic status and sets them into clusters on a scale from one to 10, with 10 being the highest.
Man presented recommendations to improve the conditions of the Beduin. He said there was a need for increased employment opportunities for women within Beduin villages – women are often not allowed to drive or leave their town.
In addition, he said the issue of polygamy and education must be addressed and the government needs to work together with the local authorities to strengthen them and the welfare and social services provided to the Beduin.
He called on the committee to include the Beduin in their report and said the headquarters would be willing and able to assist in carrying out any recommendations the committee would present.