gil pensioners 298 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
The Pensioners Affairs Ministry unveiled plans Thursday for 25 new projects to improve the lives of Israel's 700,000 elderly citizens, particularly the more than 500,000 pensioners who do not rely on the Welfare and Social Services Ministry for regular assistance.
"Most people are under the illusion that the elderly should be cared for by the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, but that is simply incorrect," Pensioners Affairs Ministry director-general Avi Bitzur said Thursday. "What about those who have stopped working but are still looking to keep themselves busy?"
He said his main aim in the ministry, which until recently had been part of the Prime Minister's Office, was to provide opportunities for able-bodied individuals in their golden years, as well as being a mouthpiece for elderly rights.
Bitzur assumed his new position less than two months ago. His office is in the Jerusalem industrial area of Givat Shaul, a fair distance from other government ministries.
Bitzur said more than 20 new projects were already in various stages of implementation. Among the initiatives, he said, were a special community service program for Sherut Leumi participants to care for elderly Holocaust survivors and document their personal stories; much-needed renovations to public housing for the elderly; more sheltered living options; and an expansion of light employment opportunities for those over 60.
"The philosophy here is that a person who is busy and working is a person who remains healthy," Bitzur said. He cited a pilot program already launched in Nahariya that promotes job placements for retirees and another track for low-income elderly to make more money.
"We welcome all these programs to assist the country's elderly," said Natan Levon, director of the social action group Ken Lazaken (Yes to the Elderly). "But this office was created close to two years ago and it still has not addressed the basic issues of raising pension benefits and expanding the health basket."
"When the [Gil Pensioners] party joined the coalition, it promised to tackle these issues, and we are still waiting," he said. "Out in the field we have seen very few changes."
According to Bitzur, implementation of the plans had been held back by bureaucracy until the ministry became independent. A Pensioners Affairs Ministry spokesman said many of the staff had been hired in recent months, something that also held back progress.
Bitzur said he hoped to solidify the ministry so that it would continue to exist long after Pensioners Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan leaves.
"This is not a political office," he said, adding that he is number 24 on the Labor Party list. "This ministry does not belong to any party but to Israel's elderly population, who most of us have, or will have, a connection to one day."