Some 2,624,000 poor people, accounting for 31.9 percent of the population, live in the country, according to the 2015 Alternative Poverty Report published by the Latet NGO.
According to the report released Monday under embargo until Tuesday morning, there are 1,626,000 adults (30.2% of the total) and 998,000 children (35.2% of the total), living under the poverty line.
“It is impossible to accept the reality in which more than 30% are poor, almost a million children, and there is still no multi-year program to address this issue,” Gilles Darmon, chairman of Latet, said ahead of the release of the report.
“In this worst-case scenario we may find ourselves living in a divided, violent, broken society with the reality of riots in the streets and social chaos. The continuation of the current policy is tantamount to a ‘separation plan’ decision from the poor and from ourselves,” he said.
The document presented a drastically different picture than last week’s National Insurance Institute report, which found that 1,709,300 people, some 22% of the population, including 444,900 families and 776,500 children, were living below the poverty line.
Latet, an organization that provides assistance to the needy, has issued the Alternative Poverty Report annually for more than a decade, saying it presents a more insightful picture than the National Insurance Institute’s annual survey – since it takes a closer look at the daily struggles of the poor.
While, the NII report calculates poverty based on a person’s income alone, the Latet report uses the degree of a person’s shortages in five categories – each reflecting essential needs to live with dignity – to determine poverty: housing, education, health, food security and the ability to meet the cost of living.
The report determined that 90% of the poor suffer from a lack of food, while 55% lack food on a regular basis. As such, 12% of the needy population was forced to search for food in the garbage or beg for food, while 57% received food packages on a regular basis from NGOs.
Some of the report’s most disturbing findings concern children in needy families.
According to the report, one of every three children in Israel in 2015 is poor; 37% were forced to skip a meal or eat very little due to their family’s financial hardships, while 14% did not eat for an entire day because their parents were unable to provide food.
In addition, 24% of children were sent to school without food, with 4% saying this was an ongoing occurrence.
Some 14% of children were forced to beg in the street, as well as sift through garbage cans for food, according to the report.
Also, 62% of impoverished parents were forced to do without medicine or medical treatment for their children at some point in the last year.
Similarly disturbing statistics were reported regarding the elderly.
A vast majority, some 96% of impoverished elderly, said old-age allotments are not enough to live in dignity and buy necessities – a 2% increase from the previous year.
The report found that 90% of the elderly cannot afford nursing care or help at home, while 52% are unable to afford medicine or medical treatments. In addition, 43% suffer from poor nutrition because they are unable to afford basic food.
The findings also indicated that 61% of the elderly live alone with 24% suffering from loneliness and unable to take part in social activities.
Nearly half of those living in poverty (47%) work, the Alternative Poverty Report further indicated, with 71% of the working needy earning salaries of as much as NIS 4,000 per month and 64% not receiving basic rights in their place of work.
The findings also indicated that 44% of those receiving supplements were unemployed – a 5% increase from the previous year.
Among these, 65% have been unemployed for more than three years whereby the main reason (47%), is due to health problems.
The report also addressed the increased cost of living and found that of the underprivileged population, 59% did not come from impoverished families, while 44% came from an “average” socioeconomic background and fell into poverty.
Some 39% of the needy felt their financial situation deteriorated during the past year – a sharp increase (19.6%) compared to 2014.
Another 48% of the population fears they will fall into financial hardships in the coming year.
Nine percent of needy people are homeless, according to the report, while 19% live in an apartment with only one bedroom. Furthermore, 78% were forced to give up on basic home repairs due to their financial situation.
In addition, 54% of poor people had their water or electricity disconnected during the past year because they were unable to pay the bill and 41% said they are unable to pay their bills.
Some 89% of the needy were forced to not purchase necessary medicine during the past year because they were unable to afford it, even though 62% of them suffer from chronic medical problems, compared to 45% among the general population.
The report also discussed the general public’s view of the importance of addressing poverty, saying that nearly two-thirds of Israelis (62.5%) believe poverty is the most urgent and important national issue, ahead of security (49%) and the polarization, violence and racism in Israeli society (30.5%).
Seventy percent of the population believe the government is responsible for fighting poverty and reducing the poverty rate, but 67% believe this is either a low priority or not a priority at all for the government.
In addition, 83% of the public believe that the government’s current policies will not reduce the poverty rates and nearly half of the respondents said they lacked faith in public figures – the prime minister, the finance minister and the welfare minister – to deal with poverty.
“There is another scenario, an optimistic one – with more equality and a broad common denominator of mutual responsibility, internal peace, a normal and optimistic reality and an atmosphere of social complexity,” said Darmon.
“We must deal with poverty because this is the right thing to do in terms of values and morals, and also because it is economically efficient and because it is possible; the solutions are known, conclusions and recommendations exist, all the arguments have been heard. Now, all that needs to be done is to take responsibility to change,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the findings Monday at the Likud faction meeting.
“The government under my leadership is consistently working to remove citizens from the cycle of poverty. Here are the facts that are not heard: Since 2009, there has been a steady and continual drop in poverty rates, we see this also with families and children, the decline is clear from year to year. Sometimes it does not decline in a year but it does not go up either, sometimes it goes down in most population groups. We are committed to this continuation,” he said.
The prime minister said the exception to this was 2014, which marked an increase in poverty rates that he attributed to the cancellation of child allowances in 2013 by the former government.
“There was a small increase, but I want to say that consistently, except this year, the decline is clear and the trend is clear, not only regarding families that come out of poverty but also a decline in the inequality index in Israeli society, two very important measures,” he said.
Netanyahu said the current government is taking steps, including introducing new measures to combat poverty. He listed three – increasing child allowances and introducing a new long-term savings plan for children in need; increasing the minimum wage; and increasing pension supplements for the elderly.
“Three steps whose purpose is to preserve the trend of declining poverty rates. This reflects our policy and it is possible to summarize the economic growth alongside social welfare. No government has done this, no government induced growth in such a consistent manner, with reforms that help competition and growth,” he said.
“Governments since 2009 and onward under my leadership have consistently and systematically lowered poverty rates. I know it does not enter the public discourse, but these are the facts,” he added.