If there is anything certain in Israel, it’s that all people who live long enough will reach pension age. What is not certain is that everyone who lives that long will receive a pension that will be enough to live with dignity.
In the realization that drastic measures need to be taken to amend this situation, the Israel Manufacturers Association, headed by Shraga Brosh – in cooperation with various other bodies, both professional and non-profit – got together a little over a year ago and started meeting with social welfare non-profit organizations across the spectrum.
These included senior citizen, youth and student organizations, among others.
In all they met with 40 non-profit organizations and 12 employers’ organizations and discussed matters such as employment, bureaucracy and regulation.
The conclusion reached was that while all non-profits have valid reasons for wanting more money, the biggest problem that needs to be solved is that of the aged, a problem that eventually affects almost everyone.
A panel of experts headed by Professor Eytan Sheshinski, emeritus professor of economics at the Hebrew University and a Senior Fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, formulated a report that was presented on Monday to President Reuven Rivlin.
The bottom line, Brosh told Rivlin, is that the minimal monthly pension that a couple should receive is NIS 7,780 – and that, only on the premise that they own their home, meaning that they don’t have to pay rent. Single seniors should receive a minimal pension of NIS 4,668.
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Couples currently receive NIS 5,025 while singles get NIS 3,018; the proposed amounts would be an increase of 55% for both groups. The current sums may enable them to exist, but not to live in dignity.
An example was given by Eran Weintraub, the CEO of Latet (To Give), an umbrella organization that represents some 60 non-profits including those of Holocaust survivors.
Weintraub said that in the winter many Holocaust survivors, fearful that the electricity bill will prove to be beyond their means, sit in the dark bundled up in blankets rather than using a heater to give them warmth. This also applies to other seniors living in impoverished conditions.
Where would the money come from to pay for increases in pensions? The employers have decided to donate NIS 1.3 billion per annum, Brosh said, providing that the Finance Ministry donates matching funds to the National Insurance Institute.
Finance Ministry Director General Shai Babad said that he would have to study the report, but agreed that the most urgent problem is that of senior citizens, especially since they are growing in number. In 2015, there were 911,000 citizens over the age of 67; with increased life expectancy, the forecast for 2021 is 1.2m., growing to 1.9m. by 2036 and 2.6m. by 2049 – almost triple the number in just 34 years.
Israeli pensions are lower than the global average, Sheshinski said. Israel is also way behind other countries in National Insurance payments deducted from wages, he said.
Natan Lavon, the chairman of Ken LeZaken (Yes to the Elder), said that many seniors are not aware of their rights, or how to claim their entitlements, often giving up in the face of bureaucracy.
Rivlin said that the initiative was deserving of the highest commendation. “A society that doesn’t care for its weaker elements is not deserving of being called a society,” he said.
“It should be remembered that seniors were once young people who contributed to society and the economy,” the president said.
“The increase in the pension will make it possible for every grandfather to give a gift to a grandchild. When he can’t do that, his world falls asunder. After all, he devoted his life to the state. He deserves more in his old age,” he added.
Rivlin cautioned, however, that “it all depends on the Finance Ministry. I know that every morning there are additional budgetary requests.”
Nonetheless he expressed confidence that Babad would find a way to meet this challenge.
“I hope that you don’t think that NIS 1.3 billion is too much and that you don’t shelve the project because of that,” Rivlin told him.
To the other people gathered in the room the president said: “You can’t afford to play games. It’s not enough to propose and approve a project. It has to be implemented.”
While it’s true that the Finance Ministry has reserves, Rivlin acknowledged, such funds have to be safeguarded for the most important emergency necessities.
“We can’t make the Finance Ministry responsible for everything,” he said.
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