The number of elderly living below the poverty line has slightly declined, according to the National Insurance Institute's semi-annual poverty report released Thursday.
The number of elderly poor stood at 89,600, or 22.9 percent of Israel's elderly population, down from 2005 when it stood at 24.4%, according to the report, which covers the last half of 2005 and the beginning of 2006.
"The overall number of Israel's poor is still very high, but if the government adopts the correct social policy it will be able to reduce the number of people living in poverty," commented NII Director-General Dr. Yigal Ben-Shalom, noting that increased state benefits for pensioners, widows and widowers was partly responsible for the drop.
While the situation for the elderly seems to be following a general trend, the report found that the total number of Israelis living under the poverty line was little changed from what it was in the previous year. The latest data put the total number of Israel's poor at 1,630,100, compared to 1,630,500 reported at the end of 2005.
The number of families living below the poverty line stood at 404,000, with close to half (174,600) being working families and more than half (238,600) families with children.
The situation for children was equally depressing for the time period reported, with 775,000, or 35.2%, of the nation's children living in poverty.
Ben-Shalom called on the government to approve a plan to provide income tax breaks to needy working families, especially those with children, in an effort to drastically reduce the number of poor.
The Finance Ministry has already approved a model for income tax breaks according to suggestions from the NII, he said. The program would require a budget of NIS 1.5 billion but would benefit 310,000 families.
Meanwhile, humanitarian aid organization Latet criticized the NII's report saying that it did not accurately reflect the poverty situation and that in reality the situation was much worse, affecting far more families.
"The poverty line does not define poverty. It is an arbitrary interpretation, it is one dimensional and does not show what is really out in on the field," wrote the organization in a press release. "The NII report paints a picture of the situation according to the parameters of income alone and that is not accurate, the data is just cosmetic without any treatment of the real problem."
Latet director Eran Weintraub called on the government to immediately form a national program to combat poverty and improve the quality of life for Israel's poor.
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