MKs discussed poor Israelis in committee meetings and in the plenum and proposed related bills on Tuesday, when the Knesset marked the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.
As MK Yossi Yonah (Zionist Union) pointed out in a speech to the plenum, “Poverty Day,” as lawmakers nicknamed it, has become an annual tradition in the Knesset, which he said showed the government’s failure to help the indigent.
The Caucus to Fight Poverty, which consists of MKs Ilan Gilon (Meretz), Eli Alalouf (Kulanu), Ayman Odeh (Joint List) and MK Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid), a former welfare minister, held a conference in the Knesset.
Alalouf, former chairman of the Welfare Ministry’s appointed committee to fight poverty, said the budget that the Knesset is expected to vote on next month does not dedicate enough money to the cause.
“I come from a poor family; I was the ninth of nine children with a single mother.
I promise that poverty will not be taken off the Knesset’s agenda,” Alalouf, who is also chairman of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, said. “I am embarrassed to be a Jew in the State of Israel where the Arab population is so poor and the haredi population lives in poverty.”
Odeh said two of every three Arab children in Israel are poor, and as such, the fight to reduce poverty must also be a fight against discrimination and racism. The Joint List chairman accused government ministries of ignoring Israeli Arabs’ needs.
“Prime Minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] once said, ‘Minus the Arabs and the haredim, our situation is great.’ There must be an alternative to that attitude and that reality.
When the government wants to separate and bring discord between Arab and Jewish poor people, we must have a joint Jewish- Arab battle for social justice, full equality and a just peace,” Odeh added.
According to Gilon, the low minimum wage (NIS 25 per hour, or NIS 4,650 per month for a full-time employee) is to blame, as indicated by increasing numbers of working poor.
The Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee reviewed research conducted by the National Insurance Institute that says poverty will be reduced by 6-14 percent by 2017, due to changes to the state budget.
An increase in supplementary income payments to the elderly should reduce poverty among those who receive the payments by 17% and by 2% among the general population.
Increased child allowances and the opening of government saving accounts should reduce poverty by 9%, whereas reducing value-added tax should reduce poverty by 1.4-1.7%.
However, Special Committee for Accessible Government Information and Transparency chairwoman Stav Shaffir (Zionist Union) accused the government of planning to use a new method to calculate poverty to create the appearance of fewer poor people. The method, she said, is based on committee recommendations from 2010 that were never made public.
Previously, poverty was determined by income, whereas under the new formula, government benefits, like subsidized higher education, hot meals in schools, rent, etc., will be counted as income.
Shaffir pointed out Israel’s high poverty rate for an OECD country – only Mexico has more relative income poverty than Israel – and said, “It cannot be that the calculations are changed just to present a façade of fewer poor people, when 2.5 million Israelis are living in poverty [according to the Alternative Poverty Report by NGO Latet] and their lives won’t be improved.”
“When [Finance Minister] Moshe Kahlon was welfare minister, he opposed this method of calculating poverty, so how can it be that he supports it as finance minister?” Shaffir asked.
National Insurance Institute representative Daniel Gottleib and Welfare Ministry representative Nurit Weisberg-Nakash both voiced opposition to the new calculations.
Gottleib said the previous way of measuring poverty enables the government to compare itself to other countries, which use a similar formula.
In the Interior Committee, Latet representatives presented an initiative for municipalities to ensure food security, which Bat Yam adopted two years ago. It includes a special supermarket, community gardens for Israelis of Ethiopian descent, food rescuing, distributing cards that can be used to purchase food, and other solutions.
Each of the 530 families included in the project receives NIS 500 in food per month, mostly in the form of two packages containing vegetables, fruit and chicken. Dry food is distributed once a month. About 40% of the food is rescued – gathered from what restaurants and cafeterias do not use – from within Bat Yam, while 30% is rescued from around the country and 30% is purchased.
Latet rescues NIS 60 million of food per year, and buys an additional NIS 10m.-12m.
Interior Committee chairman David Amsalem (Likud) called for Latet to put together a nationwide plan that would allow the Welfare Ministry to open its own food rescue service and ensure all Israelis have food security.