(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog and Minister of Pensioners Affairs Rafi Eitan announced Monday their goal to raise the national pension allowance from 16 percent of the average market wage to 19%, following a ministerial committee meeting held late Sunday night.
Meeting with Eitan for the first time since his appointment to the Welfare and Social Services portfolio, Herzog said it was time to make some serious changes in the overall situation of the elderly community in Israel.
"The goal of this committee is to address injustice against the elderly community and allow them to continue living with dignity," said Eitan, who as head of the Gil Pensioners Party created the ministerial committee to look into matters concerning the elderly as part of a coalition agreement with Kadima.
While pensioners' rights activists and those working with the elderly welcomed the appointment of a new minister to head the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, most received the plans to raise pension benefits with some skepticism.
"The [Gil] Pensioners Party has not succeeded in fulfilling any of their promises since coming to power," stated Natan Lavon, director of pensioners' rights group Ken Lazaken, which has been calling on Gil to tackle the plight of more than 700,000 elderly people since it joined the current government a year ago.
"They did succeed in partially restoring benefits cut by the previous government, but that was also facilitated by other political parties such as Labor and Shas," said Lavon, adding, however, that he was slightly more hopeful for the future now that Herzog was involved in advocating for pensioners.
"We welcome the new minister," he said. "Herzog has much more political experience than Eitan and hopefully will be able to make some significant improvements."
Dr. Yitzhak Brick, director general of JDC-ESHEL, the Association for the Planning and Development of Services for the Aged in Israel, also said that the "new relationship [between Herzog and Eitan] would be able to initiate some changes."
"I believe this [raising pensions in accordance with the average wage] is the right direction for them to go in. The current pension is simply not enough for people to survive," said Brick.
According to the plans drafted Sunday, government pensions, which today stand at NIS 1,152, will rise to 19% in stages over the next four years. Of course, the increase is dependent on approval from the cabinet and the Finance Ministry.
Figures from the National Insurance Institute suggest that more than 600,000 elderly receive a government pension, with up to 90% of them gaining extra funds from private and company pension plans.