Nearly half of the children in families supported by social welfare bodies in Israel have gone a full day without eating. In addition, some 70 percent of the people who receive assistance live without basic nutritional security and lack food.

These and other findings, released Monday at the National Conference of Charities taking place in Tel Aviv, are from the annual poverty report published by the Israeli aid group Latet.

They are based on data gathered in the second half of 2013 from respondents aged 18 and up among both the general population and the population receiving some form of assistance.

Among children under 18 whose families receive assistance, 9% had to steal food to survive, while 12% were forced to pick up food from the floor or garbage bins.

Further, 50% of children lived mainly off of carbohydrates, with 37% living mainly off of bread and spreads.

Sixty-four percent of the families receiving assistance had to choose between buying food and other basic necessities.

Forty-six percent of the adults receiving assistance worked but were unable to earn enough money to escape from poverty. Twenty- five percent of their children had to work in order to help out, and 29% had dropped out of school.

The study also found that 85% of the families receiving assistance did not feel secure in their neighborhood, while 88% reported they had to forgo heat or air-conditioning due to financial difficulties.

Of the families receiving assistance, 67% believed their situation had worsened in 2013 due to economic measures.

Among respondents from the general public, 45% feared they would end up in poverty due to the economic situation, an increase of 32% compared to 2012.

Forty-one percent of the respondents from the general public believed that the most pressing problem facing the government was poverty and growing social gaps, while 72% placed this issue first or second.

“At Latet we see our mission as a struggle against poverty,” said chairman and founder Gilles Darmon at the conference. “We help people who need help now, but in the long run we haven’t really done anything unless we push public discourse and pressure politicians to really make a change and take people out of poverty.”

Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen attended the conference and addressed the importance of charitable organizations like Latet in combating poverty as well as the government plan to establish a national nutritional security initiative and to allocate NIS 200 million to this effort.

“The responsibility to address poverty should fall on the government, not on the charities. The government should be at the front and the charities providing back up – and not the other way around,” Cohen said to the audience.

This statement echoed the tone and theme of panel speakers at the conference throughout the day.

Nevertheless, during the Q & A session with the minister, nearly all questions reflected skeptical inquiries as to how and when the funds would impact the real situation on the ground.

“Taking people out of poverty is definitely not just NIS 200 million,” said the minister.

“Poverty is not just about lacking food; it is not having access to culture, to education, to healthcare… to job security.”

“We will always leave a very sizable sum to combat poverty, always,” assured Cohen.

In a joint statement issued prior to the conference, Darmon and the director of Latet, Eran Weintraub, said: “Our expectation is that the commitment of the finance and welfare ministers to allocate NIS 200 million to the treatment of nutritional security will be implemented immediately and that the money will finally arrive on site, so as to ease the plight of tens of thousands of families who need it so badly.”

“This is a test of leadership for the finance minister toward the Treasury and for the welfare minister toward the entire system, and the ability of both to implement policies. If the plan is implemented, it will be no less than a historic milestone in the perception of responsibility of the Israeli government on the way to formulating a national plan to reduce poverty,” the statement concluded.

During a panel discussion of the findings in the Latet report on poverty, Eli Alalouf, chairman of the Committee to Fight Poverty at the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, summed things up.

“Poverty is something you leave,” he said, “not something you get stuck in.”

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