Big surge in working families struggling to get by

An NGO, Pa’amonim, released figures showing a sharp upsurge in people seeking guidance in how to make ends meet.

December 3, 2010 04:55
3 minute read.
Some 750,000 children suffer from food insecurity.

soup kitchen 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Less than a month after the National Insurance Institute Annual Poverty Report revealed that 120,000 people joined the poverty cycle in 2009, an NGO working with families struggling economically released figures this week showing a sharp upsurge in people seeking guidance in how to make ends meet.

Pa’amonim, which matches families with financial problems to specially trained volunteers who help them review, reorganize and maintain their personal budgets, announced that it had more than 540 families on its waiting list and that the figure was rapidly rising. Annually, Pa’amonim helps out close to 2,200 families learn to get out of debt and move forward with their lives.

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“Poverty is not in the pocket, it is more the psychology of how a family works,” Uriel Lederberg, Pa’amonim’s director, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview. “Families need to take control of their lives and take responsibility for their finances.

“We are talking about families that never learned to manage their finances or they made some bad mistakes with their money and find themselves in a terrible position financially,” he said. “These people just don’t know how to build a budget; someone can work all their lives, but if they do not know how to manage their money properly, it will all end up going towards paying off debts.”

Ainat and her family of six is one such example. Preferring to use only her first name, Ainat told the Post on Thursday that a series of events five years ago plunged the family into a financial crisis, with debts so deep she had to seek medical help for the stress.

“We were once a family that had it all, we never thought about the money and our children had everything they want,” she said, describing how a work accident forced her husband to give up his job and a newborn baby with a chronic illness meant she also had to stay home.

“We suddenly had no income and no income,” recalled Ainat, who admitted to “breaking down emotionally” due to the bills and the stress.

After turning to social services for assistance, Ainat was sent to meet with a representative of Pa’amonim, which later matched her with a volunteer who helped the entire family come to terms with their new economic status, taught them how to tackle their debts and gave them advice on budgeting within their new meager income.

“We still have a NIS 60,000 debt in the bank but within two years we have managed to get out of the hole,” said Ainat, who had to take on two jobs, working both day and night as a cleaner.

“I learned how to find clothes in the second-hand store for my kids and I refused to buy expensive ice creams every time we went into the store,” she said. “We learned a hard lesson but we also learned how to live without all the luxuries.”

According to the latest NII figures, 435,100 families – 1,774,800 people – lived below the poverty line in 2009, although Lederberg explains that Pa’amonim’s work focuses on lower-middle class families, those living slightly above the poverty line, who’ve made one or two bad mistakes or faced some complications beyond their control that have sent them spiraling into financial hardship.

“The NII statistics are important and they forced everyone to focus on the poverty issue, but they talked about it for one day only and did not look at the real issue, which is the actual people in this country who are struggling financially day to day,” said Lederberg, who has a team of 20 regional managers to train and oversee the volunteers.

“Receiving social welfare benefits is only part of the problem and breaking out of the poverty cycle is not only about that,” he said. “We need to encourage people to go out to work and teach them to live within their means.”

“There are hundreds of families out there who are struggling and we have the professional knowledge to help them escape the poverty cycle. The only thing that is stopping us from helping them is our own lack of resources,” Lederberg said.

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