More than 25 percent of Israelis over age 65, including many English-speaking immigrants, fail to understand their rights or fully take advantage of their social welfare benefits, statistics released by the Pensioners Affairs Ministry on Thursday revealed.
Published to coincide with the International Day for Older Persons, which is marked worldwide on October 1, the data is based on more than 50,000 calls received by the ministry's help line (*8840) over the past year.
"This information is not surprising," said Deputy Minister for Pensioners Affairs Leah Ness (Likud), who heads the ministry in the absence of a minister. "Elderly people in Israel still do not receive the appropriate attention and respect, the government has failed to pay attention to this group of the population for many years and now we are seeing the results."
Ness, who took over the ministry in March, following the national election, said she planned to make improving the situation a top priority. She has already asked the newly appointed director-general Aharon Azulai to draft an immediate plan to tackle the problem.
Some 9.7 percent of the country's 7,465,500 population are over age 65, according to figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics released prior to Rosh Hashana.
"Elderly people have been fighting for their rights for many years," said Ness. "These benefits should be recognized as something they deserve and not as some sort of charity."
Twenty-five percent of the callers to the help line asked for assistance, either tackling National Insurance Institute bureaucracy to obtain their pensions, or further explanation regarding their rights to health care treatment, rehabilitation care and equipment.
A spokesman for the ministry added that a significant number of the calls came from native English-speaking immigrants, mainly newcomers. Many of the requests pertained to rights and benefits for elderly olim.
Ness told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that her office was well aware that there was a particular problem facing new immigrants from Western countries in navigating both the language and the different cultural norms of local red tape.
"As well as coping with learning a new language and other absorption issues, new immigrants often end up struggling with classic Israeli bureaucracy," she said. "It is a difficult task for any new immigrant, but especially hard for the elderly among them."
She said that over the past year, the ministry had added more English-speakers to operate its help line and that officials had held parlor meetings with English-speaking immigrants. More such meetings are to be scheduled for the coming year, Ness said.
In April, the Post reported that a large portion of English-speaking immigrants were failing to utilize their rights or state benefits due to bureaucracy or misunderstanding. The National Insurance Institute clarified then that individuals who make aliya after retirement age (64 for a woman, 67 for a man) can qualify for a state pension (NIS 1,880 a month) if the income they receive from their native country's pension is under a certain amount. It also pointed out that there are different criteria qualifying people for pensions and other state benefits depending on how old a person is and at what age he or she arrives in the country.
Aliya organization Nefesh B'Nefesh has reported that aliya among English-speaking seniors is constantly growing.