Nearly half of Israel’s disabled forgo food, medicine, heat

Justice Ministry: The most disturbing issues raised in this report relate to the economic difficulties faced by so many people with disabilities.

father carries disabled son (photo credit: Screenshot)
father carries disabled son
(photo credit: Screenshot)
Close to half of the country’s disabled population was forced to forgo food, medicine or heating over the past year due to financial difficulties.
According to a study by the National Commission for People with Disabilities, which was released on Monday ahead of the International Day of People with Disabilities to be marked worldwide on Friday, out of roughly 1.5 million Israelis who consider themselves disabled, 43 percent of those with severe disabilities and 29% with moderate disabilities went without food at some stage over the past year, while more than one-third of those with severe disabilities and 23% with moderate disabilities had to miss out on essential medication because they could not afford it.
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In addition, 60% of people with severe disabilities and nearly half of those with moderate disabilities could not afford to turn on their heat last winter and 41% had their phone disconnected in the past 12 months.
“The most disturbing issues raised in this report relate to the economic difficulties faced by so many people with disabilities,” Ahiya Kamara, the Justice Ministry’s commissioner for equal rights of people with disabilities, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
“We are talking about twice as many people giving up food and not being able to afford heating as those in the non-disabled population,” continued Kamara. “It is not always obvious that poverty and disabilities must be linked to each other.”
Kamara said the key to the problem was integrating people with disabilities in the workforce. He called on the government to take on the issue, much as it has done with encouraging members of the haredi and Arab populations to join the workforce.
“It is clear that many people with disabilities do not go out to work and therefore cannot support themselves in a respectable way,” he said. “It should be taken on as a national challenge and they should be given incentives to go out to work.”
Some steps have already been taken, said Kamara, including allowing those on state benefits to continue receiving welfare while working at low-paying jobs and the formation this year of a National Council for the Rights of People with Disabilities in the Workplace headed by Ra’anan Dinur, a former director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office.
In addition to government efforts, Kamara said it was also about changing perceptions and raising awareness in the private sector to the benefits of employing someone who has a disability.
“Hiring some with disabilities should not be seen as a charitable act, they are not doing them a favor,” he said.
“We are talking about people with real talent. Sure they all have good and bad points like other people, but there is no reason not to hire them.”
Kamara said the challenge also lay in accessibility for people with disabilities, especially to places of work and to public transport.
On Tuesday, the Knesset Committee for the Public Petitions will discuss accessibility for the disabled to public transport, as part of a day of activities surrounding the issue in the Knesset.
The National Commission for People with Disabilities’s report also noted that the vast majority of people with disabilities relied heavily on public transport, with 69% using buses or trains regularly.
More than half of those (39% of the total) said they took public transport at least twice a week.
Figures presented by the commission show that roughly 1.5 million people in Israel have suffered a chronic illness or disability for longer than six months, with 721,000 of them being of working age, 457,000 elderly, and 314,000 under the age of 17. Out of those who are working age, 293,000 are considered severely disabled and 491,000 moderately disabled.
Additional statistics released by the National Insurance Institute on Monday showed that 300,000 people collected disability allowance in the past year – 28,500 of them were children and 4,172 were victims of terrorism.
A month ago, hundreds of people with disabilities took part in a demonstration outside the Ministries of Finance and Welfare in Jerusalem, demanding that disability allowances be increased to the level of the minimum wage. While no resolution was found, they were placated with promises from the government that it would look into the matter.
On Monday, Meretz MK Ilan Gilon announced that he would spearhead the fight to increase disability allowances to at least 40% of the average wage, or NIS 3,440 a month.
“Israel’s disabled population has been increasingly marginalized in recent years and is now one of the weakest segments of society,” Gilon said.