Annual report paints grim picture of poverty in Israel

According to Central Bureau of Statistics data, in 2014 there were 776,500 children living below the poverty line.

A homeless person begs for change in Israel (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A homeless person begs for change in Israel
More than 1.7 million people living in Israel, or 22 percent of the population, live in poverty, the National Insurance Institute said in its annual report, released on Wednesday.
The report, based on data gathered by the Central Bureau of Statistics, found that in 2014 some 1,709,300 people, including 444,900 families and 776,500 children, lived below the poverty line, representing an increase over the year before.
The percentage of families living in poverty rose from 18.6% in 2013 to 18.8% in 2014, while poverty among children increased from 30.8% in 2013 to 31% in 2014.
Poverty among the elderly increased from 22.1% in 2013 to 22.3% in 2014.
The poverty line is reached when an individual earns a monthly income of less than NIS 3,077 or when couples earn less than NIS 4,923 a month. These people are considered to be living below the poverty line; whereas a family of five must earn more than NIS 9,230 to be considered above the poverty line.
The standard of living in terms of disposable median income per capita rose in real terms by 2.4% in 2014, as did the poverty line.
The data also showed that the poor became even poorer in 2014. The depth of poverty index, or the gap between family income and the poverty line, rose by 6% to reach 34.6%. The poverty severity index increased by 10%.
With regard to working families, the poverty rate rose from 12.5% in 2013 to 13.1% in 2014.
In families with one employed person the poverty rate increased from 24.1% in 2013 to 25.4% in 2014, while in families with two employed people the poverty rate remained the same as the previous year, standing at 5.6%.
For families with children, the poverty rate rose from 23.0% in 2013 to 23.3% in 2014. In addition, the number of children who escaped poverty decreased from 2013 to 2014, from 12.8% to 11.3%.
The report’s author, Dr.
Daniel Gottlieb, deputy director- general for research and planning at the NII, said the reason for the drop was most likely due to the government’s cancellation of child allotments in 2013.
“There was a continued rise in housing prices and rent and in the severity and depth of poverty, partly due to the reduction in child allowances, which had an influence for the first time in 2014, an entire year’s income for families,” Gottlieb wrote in the report.
The data also relayed a startling income gap among different population groups in Israel.
The poverty rate among ultra-Orthodox families stood at 54.3%, which means that sector accounts for 17.5% of poor families in Israel.
In the Arab population, the poverty rate stood at 52.6% in 2014, an increase from 51.7% in 2013. But the depth of poverty among Arab citizens rose by 8% and the severity of poverty increased by 7%.
Israel has the second highest poverty rate among OECD countries, ranking behind Mexico, the report said. In addition, the GINI index of inequality showed Israel remaining among the highest, in with countries like Chile, Mexico, Turkey and Russia.
Prof. Shlomo Mor Yosef, head of the NII, submitted the report to Welfare and Social Services Minister Haim Katz.
“I recommend that the government determine macro-social objectives for the long term to reduce poverty and income inequality,” Mor-Yosef said.
The report took note of government steps to counter high poverty rates, such as the Committee to Fight Poverty, headed by MK Eli Alalouf, which issued a list of recommendations on the issue in June 2014.
Alalouf’s committee called to cut poverty by 40% to reach the OECD average of 11% within 10 years at an estimated cost of NIS 7 billion, but the government did not allocate enough to carry out all the panel’s recommendations.
The NII report said that the government would soon increase supplemental allowances for the elderly and for children to the same amount as two years ago.
NGOs and government officials were quick to criticize the findings.
“The figures in the report are shocking as usual, but not surprising.
The poor in Israel are not of enough interest to the government that neglects poverty and devotes all its energies and resources to promoting the rich and the middle class only,” said founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein.
“Only two years ago the recommendations of the Committee to Fight Poverty were presented including widespread guidelines to drastically reduce poverty within a number of years. Although unfortunately, the same government that invited the report did not do almost anything to implement it.
“But the suffering of hundreds of thousands of elderly, children, and families that have collapsed under the burden is not only a shame but a real threat to the social resilience of Israel. The government must pull itself together and present a comprehensive plan to reduce poverty with clear goals and appropriate resources,” Eckstein said.
Jonny Cline, CEO of UNICEF Israel said “poverty rates among children in Israel are shocking. Last year UNICEF Israel revealed that Israel is in fourth place among Western countries in terms of child poverty, and it is sad to see that almost nothing has changed. A country that allows for a situation like this is abusing its obligation towards children and violates their rights.”
Cline said that from UNICEF’s experiences there are three measures that could help children escape from poverty.
“The country must formulate an organized plan and stick to it for several years; it should increase child allowances; it must strengthen education and vocational education and adapt them to the requirements of the labor market. They did it in Chile, in Japan and in many other countries; there is no reason not to do it here,” Cline said.
Gidi Kroch, CEO of Leket Israel, the National Food Bank, said: “The government is not trying to solve the poverty crisis. Year after year the NII releases its report and nothing is ever accomplished.
Renewing benefits for children is like putting a band aid on a social wound. The gaps in the country continue to widen while the government doesn’t address the issue.
“The only ones working towards a solution are the dedicated nonprofit organizations throughout Israel operating without a structure in place leading their efforts. These wonderful initiatives, with strong partnerships between them, could become social enterprises and worldwide leaders with the support of a governing body.
“If the status quo stays as is, poverty and hunger will continue to hit us harder than our enemies from the outside,” Kroch said.