Former Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen.
(photo credit: AVI HAYOUN)
Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen insisted the ministry’s budget for the upcoming 2015 year would not be cut.
He made these remarks at a conference on Thursday in Ashkelon summarizing the Welfare and Social Services Ministry’s 2014 year and planning for the upcoming 2015 year.
“Whoever would try to cut the welfare budget for the coming year, try me. The budget will increase and taxes will not! Nothing will happen if we will increase the budget deficit target, there was a war and the citizens do not have to pay every time,” Cohen said at the conference.
Cohen echoed his party leader’s sentiment, Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), who has in recent days said regarding the 2015 state budget that the deficit needs to expand while spending on defense and social services must continue unhindered.
“I have no problem with the Bank of Israel, but as the finance minister said – we will not increase taxes! Nothing will happen if we increase the target deficit, it is for an important cause,” reiterated Cohen.
Cohen pointed out that many countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development live with similar deficits.
“I, as welfare and social services minister, will stand together with the finance minister and my hind legs, and will not take from the citizen,” he said.
According to Cohen, in the upcoming year the ministry will aim to increase allowances for the elderly and will strive to reduce poverty among the elderly population, which has the highest poverty rates in the developed world.
“Security is important. Social security is no less important. Israel is full of tunnels of poverty and we need to eradicate them,” said Cohen.
In fact, addressing the issue of poverty in Israel – which has one of the highest rates in the Western world, standing at some 20.9 percent, nearly twice the OECD average of 11.3% – will be one of the Welfare Ministry’s primary tasks for the upcoming year. However, it remains to be seen how much funding will be available to combat poverty on a national scale.
At the conference, Cohen addressed the recommendations of the Committee to Fight Poverty and said the government would allocate only NIS 1 billion toward implementing the recommendations, with an emphasis on addressing poverty among the elderly.
In June, the committee, headed by Eli Alalouf, released long-awaited recommendations to combat poverty, totaling an estimated NIS 7b. to implement.
The committee, which was appointed by Cohen, called to reduce the poverty rates by 40% to reach the OECD average of 11% within 10 years.
The committee’s report stated that the only way to accomplish this goal is to adopt and begin implementing all the recommendations within the next three to five years.
To date, the government has not allocated any funds to address the phenomenon of poverty on a national scale.
The committee was responsible for making recommendations on the actions required by the state to combat poverty in all aspects of life.
Yet despite the lofty recommendations, government officials and experts alike expressed concern that the government will not allocate the necessary funds to adopt all of the recommendations.
In the weeks leading up to the release of the report, several committee members, including Alalouf, publicly expressed concern that, behind closed doors, Finance Ministry officials have no intention of funding all the recommendations and that the committee’s work would be in vain.