The first casualties of Israel's political tumult - the poor

Addressing poverty in Israel – which has one of the highest rates of it in the Western world – was one of Meir Cohen’s primary concerns as welfare minister.

December 4, 2014 23:43
3 minute read.
An African migrant worker sleeps on a bench of a bus station in south Tel Aviv

An African migrant worker sleeps on a bench of a bus station in south Tel Aviv. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Amid all the name-calling, promises and backroom deals in store for the coming months until a new coalition is formed, the first casualties of the political upheaval will no doubt be the vulnerable and needy populations in society.

The dissolution of the Knesset and the decision to go to early elections looks to significantly hurt the underprivileged populations, as critical social reforms slated to improve their conditions have been put on hold and many will ultimately be dropped.

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“The Israeli prime minister has dragged Israel to elections out of political calculations, and because of this, 190,000 underprivileged elderly, 5,000 poor families and 20,000 single mothers and tens of thousands of Israelis living in need will not get the good news they were waiting to hear,” welfare and social services minister Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid) said as he resigned his post on Tuesday.

Having served only 20 months, Cohen, who previously was mayor of Dimona and comes from an impoverished background, attempted to pass numerous social reforms to assist the needy.

Addressing poverty in Israel – which has one of the highest rates of it in the Western world, standing at some 20.9 percent, nearly twice the OECD average of 11.3% – was one of Cohen’s primary concerns as minister.

One of his major contributions was the establishment of the Committee to Fight Poverty, headed by Eli Alalouf, which was responsible for making recommendations on the policies required of the state to combat poverty in all aspects of life.

In June, the committee released its long-awaited recommendations for actions costing an estimated total of NIS 6 billion to NIS 8b.

The panel called to reduce the poverty rate by 40% within 10 years, saying the only way to accomplish this is to adopt and begin implementing all the recommendations within the next three to five years.

Yet despite all the good intentions, it was clear the government would not be able to allocate the necessary funds.

Cohen announced an allocation of only NIS 1.7b. – set to come in part from the Welfare Ministry’s 2015 budget.

However, the failure to agree upon a 2015 state budget prior to the dissolution of the Knesset will bring about a “significant cancellation” of these important social reforms, Cohen said this week.

The first population group to suffer the consequences is perhaps one of the most vulnerable – the impoverished elderly.

The panel called for an increase in allotments for some 190,000 elderly citizens receiving supplemental income and living below the poverty line. This reform – the first realization of the committee recommendations, estimated to cost NIS 340 million – was intended to improve the financial and living standards of all 190,000 poor elderly and bring them above the poverty line.

With the elections scheduled for mid-March, this crucial reform will, according to Cohen, be put on hold for at least six months and may eventually be forgotten or canceled.

The National Council for the Child also lashed out at the government for the early dissolution of the Knesset, saying it was placing countless children at risk.

“Dozens of bills and legislative amendments [for the rights and protection of children] are in various stages of the legislative process, and will be frozen at best and renewed in another 10 months. The children cannot wait,” said Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, executive director of the council.

Additional reforms to be put on hold include increased allotments of NIS 1,000 per month for some 5,000 disabled children – a reform announced just one day prior to Cohen’s resignation – as well as work stipends for some 20,000 single-parent families.

A recent survey conducted by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews found that 82% of people living under the poverty line feel the state does not care about the country’s poor, while some 61% said they had lost trust in government institutions.

No doubt this latest round of elections will further diminish that trust, as the most vulnerable and needy population groups are once again overlooked in the political fray.

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