A homeless person begs for change in Israel.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Politicians from across the political spectrum slammed the government in response to the findings of humanitarian-aid NGO Latet’s Alternative Poverty Report on Monday.
The report found that some 2,436,000 people, accounting for 29.05% of the population, are living in poverty in Israel.
“We are simply not aware enough of poverty,” said MK Eli Alalouf (Kulanu), who headed the Committee to Fight Poverty, which issued recommendations in 2014 on how to combat the phenomenon in all aspects of life.
Speaking at the NGO’s annual conference on poverty, he slammed the government, specifically the Health and Education ministries, which he said are “not aware” of the extent of poverty and how to properly address the needs of the underprivileged.
“There is money in the country, but there is no frenzied devotion that you find in the third sector and in philanthropies,” Alalouf said.
Singling out the Education Ministry and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, he criticized the lack of funding to help underprivileged children in the country, saying that Bennett instead allocates funds to teach Jewish education to pupils abroad.
Alalouf said Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who heads his Kulanu Party, was unable to accomplish all that he wanted because “the system isn’t built for it.”
“[Kahlon] comes to the Education Ministry and allocates [funding] to give to the needy groups, and instead [Bennett] passes [the funds] to Amona,” he said. “We don’t need to give them money! The problem with poverty is first of all a lack of awareness of all the social and governmental systems together.”
“The method doesn’t work,” Alalouf said.
“The ministries are not functioning. Not meaning to insult, but our bureaucracy does not work. It doesn’t have enough awareness of poverty.”
MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz), chairman of the lobby for the rising cost of living, also slammed the coalition’s efforts to fight poverty.
He alluded to the most disturbing statistics in the report, which found that there are some 1,024,000 children (35.4% of the total) living under the poverty line.
“This is a serious indictment against the government: that instead of fighting poverty, it fights the poor,” Gilon said. “These are figures that we cannot accept, but on the eve of the budget vote in the Knesset we will see that poverty is the work plan of this government.”
Former prime minister Ehud Barak also commented on the report, taking a swipe at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“A million children are living under the poverty line, and Bibi tells the foreign press that things have never been better,” he said.
The Latet report was severely critical of the relevant government actors, primarily the prime minister and the welfare and finance ministers.
Latet chairman Gilles Darmon and CEO Eran Weintraub slammed Welfare and Labor Minister Haim Katz in a joint statement ahead of the release of the report, accusing him of “acting out of populist considerations,” noting that he did not stand by his promises to allocate NIS 100 million in the 2017-18 budget toward a national plan for food security.
A spokeswoman for Katz told The Jerusalem Post in response that “in general, we are skeptical about the data released by the NGO, which was intended primarily for PR purposes and to increase contributions to finance the inflated salaries of the heads of the organization.”
In a written statement, his office said that in 2016, NIS 224,274,777 was allocated toward food security.
Katz outlined a new policy for the distribution of food in a respectful manner, the statement read. He intends to eradicate the shameful lines for food aid and in the coming weeks will launch a national initiative for food security. In its first stage, it will provide a response for some 10,400 families who will receive a monthly [debit] card loaded with NIS 375 for purchases in retail chains, at an annual cost of some NIS 40 million.
“We found aggressive and crude cynicism at the expense of the poor in the conduct of the Latet NGO, which delayed the start of the food-card initiative,” the statement read.Lahav Harkov and Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.