Beggar in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israel is far from reaching its goal of reducing poverty rates to the OECD average, according to a study released Tuesday by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel.
The new policy brief, written by Prof. John Gal, chairman of the Taub Center Social Welfare Policy Program, and by Shavit Madhala-Brik, Taub Center researcher, examined the implementation of the recommendations issued by the Committee to Fight Poverty, headed by Eli Alalouf.
In June 2014, the Alalouf Committee released long-awaited recommendations to combat poverty, totaling an estimated cost of NIS 7.4 billion to implement.
The committee was initiated in 2013 by then-social services and welfare minister Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid), and called to reduce poverty rates by 50% to reach the OECD average of 11% within 10 years. The OECD, or Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, is an international organization focused on solving economic, social and other governmental challenges A similar effort has not been made since the early 1970s, during which time social gaps have grown substantially, the study noted.
During the course of the committee’s work, its 50 members prepared a long list of recommendations in the areas of housing, health, education, social security and welfare.
Among recommendations that were implemented are: raising the old-age pension for needy elderly persons, increasing the number of social workers dealing with populations in poverty, providing public dental care for children, enlarging the amount of public housing, and expanding the supply of public subsidized day care facilities.
Yet the study found that, to date, only NIS 1.9 billion has been allocated to implement the recommendations, with most yet to be implemented.
Primary among those are merging the activities dealing with poverty into one centralized authority, which would then be under management of the main government ministries.
The government also failed to implement other recommendations, such as: increasing income security benefits; allocating very limited resources to programs such as employment grants; vocational training; and the purchase of additional homes for public housing.
The Taub researchers said there was “serious doubt” if the steps taken so far, and those planned, will fulfill the targets of the committee, mainly that of bringing poverty rates close to the OECD average.
“The doubt arises in part from the fact that the government has not as yet established a central authority to deal with poverty, which makes interministerial action difficult,” the researchers wrote.
Furthermore, they noted the lack of government funding for that initiative, which they said was a “far cry” from the expenditure recommended by the committee.
Still, Gal and Madhala-Brik noted some positive points stemming from the committee’s work.
From the perspective of public perception, the committee succeeded in putting the subject of poverty on the public agenda, strengthened government involvement in ensuring that citizens realize their rights, and contributed to the development of new systems to deal with the problem.
And from a practical viewpoint, the committee brought about a change in various policies that have the power to contribute to a reduction in poverty rates, though it remains to be seen if this trend will continue in the coming years.