Politicians used the National Insurance Institute’s poverty report as part of their election campaigns Tuesday – including those who were in the coalition until recently.
Yesh Atid MK Meir Cohen, who was welfare minister until two weeks ago, said the number of poor people in Israel has dropped for the first time in 10 years.
“This encouraging number shows the investment in education, welfare, and health that [former] finance minister [Yair Lapid] led. We changed our approach from only welfare to empowerment,” Cohen said.
The former welfare minister accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of blocking Lapid’s “social” 2015 budget, which Cohen said would have lifted 190,000 elderly people, 5,000 families, and tens of thousands of children, single mothers, and Holocaust survivors out of poverty.
Lapid posted Cohen’s comments on Facebook, adding: “In three months we will pick up exactly where we left off.”
MK Orly Levy-Abecassis (Yisrael Beytenu), whose party is still in the coalition, said a new government strategy is needed to fight poverty.
Levy-Abecassis praised the slight improvement in the poverty numbers, but pointed out that for the past decade, almost a third of Israel’s children and about 25 percent of the population have been impoverished.
“The government needs to intervene more in saving citizens and children from poverty,” she said. “This has happened in dozens of countries around the world, which managed to significantly reduce poverty.”
Shas chairman Arye Deri said that Netanyahu, Lapid and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett brought Israel to a nadir.
“The shocking numbers from the poverty report shame the departing government and are a direct result of Shas sitting in the opposition,” Deri stated. “Israel needs a government that works for its citizens, not against them.”
Deri added that he would join only a government that raises the minimum wage to at least NIS 30 per hour and cancels value-added tax on basic food items. He said that Shas is the only social party in Israel.
United Torah Judaism MK Uri Maklev accused party leaders in the last government of being “hedonists who do know what poverty means,” saying decision-makers are more concerned with headlines than with action.
“The satisfied person does not feel hunger,” Maklev said. “[Poverty] was not even on [the government’s] agenda.”
Opposition Labor leader Isaac Herzog said that “numbers don’t fill refrigerators,” calling poverty an ongoing, painful problem for too many Israelis.
“One red light after another is blinking and the citizens of Israel demand answers that they are not getting,” he said. “The social crisis is getting worse, the world recognizes the problem, and our current leadership has no answers.”
Herzog vowed that the situation would change soon, when he leads the country with a new set of priorities.
“Next Hanukka, Israel will light up with concern for the weak and significantly smaller economic gaps,” he predicted.
MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) said Netanyahu, whom she accused of having lavish spending habits, sees being poor as a crime and views poor people as subhuman.
“The poverty numbers are not our fate and they are not a natural disaster. They come from a systematic, cruel government policy... We must replace the government to rehabilitate the ruins of this economic destruction, which is clear to Netanyahu and his friends,” she said.
MK Amir Peretz, whose Hatnua party is running with Labor, said the report indicates that working families are remaining poor, and as such, the government’s efforts to reduce poverty failed. He called for new policies, including raising minimum wage, canceling VAT on basic food products, making contract work illegal, and building 100,000 low-cost apartments to lower the cost of living.
“A country that ignores poverty will find itself facing a social revolution,” Peretz warned.
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On blamed Netanyahu for the poverty rates and said the next government should cancel his “regressive tax policies” and replace them with recommendations by the Alalouf Committee, appointed by the Welfare Ministry.
Gal-On pointed out that the report shows the number of poor families with two working parents increased.
“We cannot allow a situation in which working people cannot live with dignity,” she said.