Solving the problem of poverty is not a task the country can afford to put off for tomorrow, 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 from academics, nonprofit organizations and people living under the poverty line.
Avi Gottlieb, a 28-year old father of four, was invited to share his experiences of living in poverty.
“We are a young couple who do not want to live like this,” he said. “I want to get out of this situation, but if nobody gives me the right tools to get out of poverty, we won’t be able to.”
Gottlieb told the committee that he and his wife are in massive debt and though he only earns NIS 5,000 per month for a family of six, he was repeatedly told that he was ineligible to receive assistance for housing from the state because he did not meet the necessary criteria.
“There have been days that I have given up on lunch to bring home two slices of bread so my children will have food to eat and take to school the next day,” he said.
The committee also heard from Varda Cohen, a 54-yearold mother of five who has been sick with diabetes for over a decade.
Cohen lives with two of her children on NIS 4,400 a month, mostly from allowances by the National Insurance Institute.
She told the committee that she spends NIS 2,000 a month to feed her family and often has to give up on buying medications in order to provide sustenance for her two teenage daughters. Due to her deteriorating medical condition, Cohen is supposed to eat healthier foods low in sugars, but because whole wheat bread costs much more than white, she cannot afford to, she said.
Simona, a 50-year-old single mother, told the committee that she had to put her son in an orphanage to ensure that he would receive a hot meal every day.
Though she works as a kindergarten teacher in an afternoon daycare center, she only earns NIS 2,500 and racks up some NIS 800 in debt each month.
“Who will help me? I hope the government will understand the difficulty of a single mother in my position,” she said.
The committee heard from numerous other people living below the poverty line, all sharing their personal stories.
Despite the vast differences in background, age and ethnicity, the common threads among all the narratives were the unbearable costs of housing and medications and the fear of not having enough money to buy food.
“Poverty is a daily struggle,” Alalouf said. “Your accounts give us renewed strength to continue to tackle this problem, and we will listen to all your recommendations.”
The committee also heard statistics and research from numerous experts and organizations working to combat poverty and help populations in need.
Eran Weintraub, executive director of Latet, an organization assisting needy populations in Israel, discussed the issue of food insecurity, the inability to buy the basic minimal food needed for the survival of the family.
According to Weintraub, a family of five needs to spend NIS 2,900 a month for basic sustenance, but in reality such families fall short of food security by an average of NIS 880.
He estimated that the government would have to allocate NIS 1 billion a year in order to significantly decrease the phenomenon of food insecurity.
Weintraub also told the committee that the government should provide regulation and lower VAT on basic food products, and that it should promote and subsidize healthier foods.
The Welfare and Social Services Ministry has tasked the committee with formulating a plan to reduce the number of people living in poverty and to reduce the depth of poverty. In addition, the committee is responsible for making recommendations on the actions required of the state to combat poverty in all aspects of life and society.
The general plenum is comprised of 50 representatives from academia, nonprofit organizations, businesses, government ministries and municipalities.
Five subcommittees were established to deal with economy and employment, family and community, housing, education and health, and public complaint handling and information gathering.
The committee is set to release its findings next month on April 8.