Report: Israel failing to address socio-economic disparities

Report criticizes government for “recognizing” socio-economic rights theoretically, but undermining rights with policies, red-tape in practice.

A homeless man lies on the street. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A homeless man lies on the street.
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira filed his annual report on Tuesday, focusing on socioeconomic disparities, severe problems in the health sector, and public corruption.
This year’s report marked a return to more traditional and less headline-grabbing subjects, following a series of bombshell reports Shapira issued during the March election, and last year’s harsh annual report on the state’s treatment of migrants.
Shapira presented the latest report to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein at 2 p.m.
In it, he wrote that he awarded “great importance to the subject of the defense of human rights,” which includes “the socioeconomic rights of society’s weaker sectors.”
He added that “defense of individual rights is not an activity that is done merely to show goodwill, but is rather a constitutional and legal obligation” under both Israeli and international law.
The report said it was insufficient for government offices to “recognize” socioeconomic rights theoretically, if their policies and red-tape undermined those same rights in practice.
Several sections of the report dealt with the poor.
One noted that the Economy Ministry was failing to deal with labor violations – particularly against low-wage workers – in a timely fashion, and failing to sniff out other violations on its own. Thirty percent of the complaints took over a year to address, according to the report.
Regarding public housing, even as the number of eligible recipients has gone up, the wait times for receiving such housing have been exorbitant.
Only 39% got their housing within a year, while 32% had to wait over three years. An unfortunate 10% still didn’t have their housing after seven years of waiting.
The report also found that many public bodies gave out benefits to their employees without properly reporting and recording them, meaning the benefits often went untaxed. Ninety-five public bodies that were surveyed – 22% of the organizations that participated in the report – gave out in 2013 127 different benefits to their employees, out of which 51% were not recorded as wages, in violation of tax laws. Three health funds gave personnel a collective NIS 88 million in benefits, while 29 academic institutions gave NIS 55m. worth of tuition benefits to employees and their families. Local government administrations gave a variety of freebies, such as Ramat Gan Municipality doling out 650 tickets to sports games in 2013.
Moving on to the health sector, the Health Ministry, with a gargantuan NIS 30 billion budget – the third-largest in the government – was heaped with opprobrium in the more than 210 pages that dealt with the comptroller’s investigation of its operation.
Patients’ rights and their dignity have been trampled constantly by the healthcare system that the ministry runs and supervises, the report found. The ministry also earned biting criticism for the way it was supervising dental services for children, adults and the elderly.
The comptroller often complained that his criticisms of the ministry in his reports from years ago continued to be ignored.
Among the criticisms were that unqualified hospital staffers were carrying out x-rays on patients; that an inadequate number of hospital social workers and other problems had forced nurses, already severely overburdened, to do their work for them; that hospital wards were too often filthy; that patients were exposed to excessive radiation because of the lack of low- or no-radiation scanning devices; that patients’ food was often inadequate due to a lack of dietitians; that health funds were chronically in debt because the Treasury held the purse strings; that emergency room patients had to wait endlessly; and that diagnoses of discharged patients that hospitals sent to community health clinics were sometimes wrong.
The only positive point Shapira cited was that the ministry had implemented a 1990 recommendation to provide basic dental care for children.
Next, he returned to the theme of the special report he had filed approximately a year earlier, slamming the state for its treatment of foreign workers.
The report did not get into the state’s detention of illegal migrants this time, but did attack the state for failing to defend the rights of mistreated foreign workers and to file complaints against their employers and others who mistreated them.
It also stated that foreign workers were being underpaid, and that that constituted exploitation.
The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants said that the report effectively confirmed its claims that the state was efficient about attacking migrant rights via detention, but that it turned a blind eye when it came to cracking down on private individuals who abused those rights.
On education issues, the report found that large parts of the New Horizons reform, which is meant to ensure a high standard of education and regulation in the kindergarten system and which costs the government NIS 960 million a year, have gone unimplemented.
The report also discussed the inequalities between Jewish kindergartens and kindergartens for minorities. One glaring example it cited was that Jewish kindergartens operated six days a week, while kindergartens for minorities operated only five days a week, with no compensation in the form of educational programming or funding. Additionally, the educational program has not been adapted for Arabic culture, and parts of it have not been translated into Arabic.
Shapira also drew attention to the phenomenon of government agencies across the board failing to work out regulations for implementing legislation that the Knesset has passed.
Citing 130 regulations that should have been written and implemented but never were, he said this phenomenon pulled the rug out from under any such legislation, leaving it feckless and irrelevant.
Shapira further accused authorities of failing to address the issue of food loss adequately, and called on the government to create a comprehensive national plan for curbing this wasteful and economically detrimental phenomenon.
Finding that the issue of food loss had not been widely addressed among government authorities, the comptroller specifically criticized the lack of relevant data collection, insufficient public education, inadequacies in affixing food expiration dates and storage instructions, and unclear guidelines regarding utilizing food surpluses. He called on the relevant offices to act on his report and deploy a coordinated administrative body to handle the problem.
The report also addressed a range of other issues, including pollution, sexual abuse of minors, problems with medical care for prisoners, and corruption in certain portions of the haredi education system.
Haya Goldlist-Eichler and Sharon Udasin contributed to this story.