(photo credit: Reuters)
Hundreds of thousands of Israeli children are not eating enough and the state’s failure to provide “food security” is “specifically harming the weakest sectors of society,” State Comptroller Joseph Shapira said Monday, issuing his report on food sufficiency.
The report said that in 2011 around 360,000 children out of a total 894,000 persons either went a day without food or reduced their food intake over an extended period due to their poverty.
Shapira said that a task force that was supposed to work on improving food security had not even started operating until January 2013, a full year after it was supposed to have begun.
Even once the task force started to function, the report said, the ministries and local authorities involved had insufficient budgets to achieve any major change.
Shapira said that the state’s efforts are excessively based on third-party groups, such as NGOs, to carry out their efforts.
In addition, the report slammed the state for especially neglecting the Arab-Israeli sector, ironically the sector where the food security situation is worst of all.
As a manifestation of this neglect, Shapira said that, whereas the state at least funds NGOs to assist with the fight for food security in most sectors, in the Arab-Israeli sector it is not even funding a single NGO.
“It greatly pains me that in a reality that requires an uncompromising war on poverty – and following the first time in the country’s history that we have allocated NIS 230 million, of which NIS 60 million is to reinforce the NGOs in handling difficult food insecurity – the program, budgeted since January, is unrealized due to legal bureaucracy,” said Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen on Monday.
“This is a reality that is unacceptable to me in any way and I intend to put an end to the cumbersome management that harms tens of thousands of citizens who desperately need our assistance,” added Cohen.
Eli Alalouf, head of the Committee to Fight Poverty, said in response to the report, “Food security is a basic right of every person. When a child does not eat enough he does not concentrate in school, will not be able to develop a sense of security and does not acquire the tools that will help him break out of the cycle of poverty.”
Alalouf called on the state to ensure the basic survival of all its citizens and invest special attention to children.
He said the Committee to Fight Poverty will recommend this in a “clear manner” when it releases its report later this month.
Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) released a statement Monday harshly criticizing the administration.
“The State Comptroller’s Report points to the intolerable gap between words and actions in the current government.
Twice the finance minister announced the creation of a fund for food security: in June 2013 in the Knesset plenum; in January 2014, during a press conference. There is talk, there are promises, reasoned explanations – only money is lacking,” he said.
Herzog called on Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to immediately transfer funds to combat food insecurity.
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews commented on the report.
“To eliminate this shameful phenomenon, the state must decide on a plan to combat poverty and the social gaps, which will include significant change in budget priorities while returning many resources that were cut back over the years from subsistence allowances for the needy and welfare services,” he said.
Eckstein said the Finance and Welfare ministries’ announcement to create a food security program and the establishment of a committee to fight poverty were important steps.
However, he said, the government must implement “concrete action on the ground” to help people and children who are hungry today.
The Finance Ministry did not release a statement regarding the report and deferred to the comments made by the Welfare Ministry.
In addition, a range of MKs from other parties slammed the government’s work on the issue, including: MK Ya’acov Asher (United Torah Judaism), MK Itzik Shmuli (Labor), MK Stav Shaffir (Labor) and MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz).