A crowd of several hundred social workers and students gathered in front of the Finance Ministry on Tuesday to protest the shortage of social workers in the Jerusalem area. The protesters brandished signs stating their two main demands: an increase in manpower and security for workers, who often face violent attacks. According to the protesters, Israel's rapid population expansion has increased the number of clients, while the number of social workers has remained the same. Because of the influx in caseloads, social workers are unable to provide optimum care for all patients and ultimately have to turn away people in need. "Most workers have between 100 to 300 cases, and even then we say no to clients," said Dorit Biran-Deckelbaum, manager of the planning, research and development division in the Jerusalem Municipality's department of social services. "We have less than one hour per year for the client. We now only deal with emergency cases, and we don't succeed in really helping people with their problems." The protest was planned to "show the government and the public the real face of welfare in the state of Israel," said Social Workers Union chairman Yitzhak Perry. "If we are in silence, we are betraying our role - we are like a blanket covering something that is stinky." The social workers are calling for 1,000 new positions to help minimize the shortage, Biran-Deckelbaum said. Until then, social workers have decided to refuse to take any new cases. Social workers cited the growth in the income gap as the main reason for the increased pressure on the welfare system. "We are in a situation where we can't fulfill the needs of our population," said Nicky Cregor, coordinator of services for the elderly in Jerusalem. Clients and workers are exposed to "mutual feelings of helplessness." Social workers said they were frustrated that they only had the time and resources to focus on "absolutely SOS" cases. "We are dealing with 200 children for one social worker," said Varda Treiser, a social worker for abused children. "It's very difficult to handle - do you deal with the baby who is dead now or the beaten children?" Social workers are currently in a "lose-lose situation." Cregor added. "We want to work, and we have the skills to work, but we don't have the manpower to deal with the increasing demand." In addition to an increase in the number of workers, protesters were also demanding more protection because the state did not provide security guards, Perry said. "Our demand is that every place in the welfare agency should have some security guard in case of violent [incidents]," he said. "Three social workers were murdered in the last 25 years and hundreds beaten badly." In early May, a social worker was attacked in Abu Ghosh. The violent attacks on social workers are partly due to clients' frustration that they do not receive enough help, Cregor said. Still, she added that social workers should not be the "punching bag for the client's anger toward the government." "We are like social shock absorbers," Biran-Deckelbaum said. "The anger of our clients isn't going to the government - it is going to us." Perry said the protest was successful. "We are determined," he said. "We are showing the public that something is very wrong." Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog said Tuesday that "we must find a formula to meet the demands of social workers, who only want to provide better service to the public." Herzog said he supported the aims of the social workers' sanctions and their bid to increase manpower within local authorities. "Already at the start of this year we agreed to implement reforms to the social services system in the local authorities, and part of those changes was to increase social workers. I expect the Finance Ministry to find, together with us, a suitable solution that will enable social workers to continue doing their jobs," said Herzog. Meanwhile, Welfare and Social Services Ministry Director-General Nahum Itzkovich met Tuesday morning with the head of the Finance Ministry's budgetary department, Ram Blinkov, about the social workers' ongoing sanctions. Itzkovich said the meeting was productive and that the Finance Ministry showed willingness to find a solution to the problem. In addition, he said he would immediately establish a committee to reform the service social workers provide in the local municipalities. Its recommendations are expected to be published at the end of September.