(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Voices in the coalition and opposition expressed concern on Monday the 2015 state budget will not sufficiently fight poverty, as Welfare Minister Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid) vowed to help the poor.
Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz (Hatnua) called for the recommendations of the Welfare Ministry- appointed Committee for the War on Poverty, led by Israel Prize laureate Elie Elalouf, to be included in the budget. It will cost an estimated NIS 7 billion to implement the proposals, half of which the committee said the government already budgeted, but not in the way to best help poor families.
“I will be your emissary in budget debates,” Peretz said at a Jewish National Fund ceremony in Ashkelon for Clean Up The World Day, an international environmental conservation event.
Peretz voted against the 2013-14 state budget on grounds that it hurt the weakest sectors of society.
“The South and Gaza border towns need to continue receiving [funds] throughout the year,” the minister, a resident of Sderot, added. “I plan to insist that the Elalouf Committee recommendations be part of the budget, or else the weakest link could break and the whole State of Israel could be harmed.”
Similarly, opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) “abandoned the important value of taking care of poverty.
“They abandoned the weakest people and ensured that hundreds of thousands of young people, for whom the government does nothing, will enter the cycle of poverty,” Herzog said.
He called on Lapid and Netanyahu to discuss the “moral significance” of the 2015 budget, which “forsakes the weakest sectors in Israeli society.”
However, Cohen vowed the Elalouf Committee’s recommendations will be taken into consideration in the budget and said the NIS 1.4b. increase in his ministry’s funding is significant, but that he hopes to reserve at least another billion for fighting poverty.
Cohen plans to bring the Elalouf Committee’s findings to the cabinet and the ministries mentioned in the report – Economy, Health, Education and Housing – in two weeks.
“We are in the middle of a years-long process of social and economic change, at the end of which our social goals will be part of the government’s priorities,” Cohen said, presenting the budget increase on Monday.
The Welfare Ministry 2015 draft budget includes an increase in supplemental income payments to more than 208,000 elderly people, building daycare centers and helping autistic people.
The budget proposal Lapid detailed on Sunday also includes increased funding for other ministries dealing with social issues, such as NIS 2.8b for health and NIS 1.8b for education.
In addition, the price of electricity is to go down by 12 percent.
The Forum to Fight Poverty, a joint effort of several NGOs, including Rabbis for Human Rights, the Israeli Center for Social Justice and Sikuy: Reforming Israel’s Political System, said that Lapid is not taking the issue of poverty seriously and did not commit funds to implementing the Elalouf recommendations.
“Past experience teaches us that vague promises are worthless,” an organization spokesman said. “We call on Lapid to set a budget for the Committee for the War on Poverty’s recommendations and expect him to present a detailed plan for its implementation, including a schedule for the coming year and future budgetary items.
“Israel has one of the highest rates of people living in poverty in developed countries... Will [Lapid’s] promises only be lip service, or will there be a serious plan?” the spokesman asked.