(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
"Behind every statistic there is a personal story," declared Labor MK Isaac Herzog before the Knesset plenum on Wednesday, as part of his outgoing speech as welfare and social services minister.
"At the center of every firing, there is a father or a mother or a family with children, and if the state does not find a solution to this crisis soon then it can only be seen as a betrayal of its moral obligation to the citizens of this country."
Herzog, who has headed the ministry for the past two years, called on Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu to take up the challenge of finding a solution to the deepening economic recession, and urged coalition MKs to continue his work in the ministry.
"As everyone discusses the makeup of the next government, they fight only over the Finance or Defense portfolios, but no one wants to go near to the Welfare and Social Services Ministry," he said. "This should be considered one of the most important governmental roles and a place where every party should want a presence. I know it is a challenge, but it's the only way to get close to the soul of Israeli society.
"You go to sleep with all the problems of society swirling around in your head and you wake up each morning to start searching again for the solutions," continued Herzog, who also presented the latest unemployment figures released this week by the National Insurance Institute.
According to the NII, some 19,800 new requests for unemployment benefits were made during the month of February, the largest increase in a single month for the past several years.
"Over the past four months, there were 75,000 new claims for unemployment benefits in the National Insurance Institute," said Herzog, adding that the country's unemployment rate has now reached 7.5%.
"Every day that passes brings more and more damage to the thousands of unemployed who are forced to remain outside the job market," he went on. "We have already created a program that will help improve the situation for those people, but it is being held up by the impossible bureaucracy of the Finance Ministry."
Herzog was referring to a program presented to the government in January, which recommends reducing by three months the period a person has to be employed before being eligible for unemployment benefits and income support.
In response, a spokesman for the Finance Ministry said the delay in implementing the change was not the fault of the Treasury, but of those behind the new arrangement, who want it legislated by the Knesset.
"We were willing to sign an agreement with the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, the NII and the Israel Employment Service to reduce the waiting time, but the Knesset Committee for Labor, Welfare and Health recommended turning it into a law," the spokesman told The Jerusalem Post. "We told them it would take longer this way."
However, said the spokesman, this proposal does not offer a complete solution to the unemployment crisis.
"We have already initiated a program that includes supporting 10,000 workplaces, offers programs of professional training for those who've been made redundant, and urges the government to reduce the number of foreign workers coming into Israel," he highlighted.