Thousands of Israelis pushed into poverty amid COVID-19 pandemic - report

Compared to the year before, some 268,000 new households - around 3% of the population - were pushed into poverty.

A beggar sits and asks for money amid the coronavirus crisis, Jerusalem, 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A beggar sits and asks for money amid the coronavirus crisis, Jerusalem, 2020
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Some 268,000 new families have found themselves in a situation of “extreme poverty” this year amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to a report by the ERI Institute completed on behalf of  the nonprofit Latet organization.
Latet, which provides welfare and meal services throughout Israel, reports that almost three in 10 Israelis (29.3%) live in poverty (850,000 households) – 9.3% of the population – a number clearly exacerbated by the pandemic.
Compared to 2019, some 268,000 new households were pushed into poverty, up from 582,000.
The report also found that Israel’s middle class dwindled during the pandemic, shrinking by a total of 15.5%. More than half (50.7%) reported “significant economic damage,” and only 23% of households report their financial situation to be “standard or above standard,” compared to the 45% who said so prior to the pandemic.
The need for financial aid surged to 70% following the onset of the coronavirus outbreak. Almost a quarter (24%) of those who needed and requested financial aid claim that they did not receive any. A clear majority of Israelis believe the government should be the one to address the issue of rising poverty, while 21.3% believe that the government is doing its job.
“The surge in poverty rates confirms the most pessimistic economic forecasts of the beginning of the crisis, and highlights the weaknesses of the ecosystem in Israel,” said Latet founder and chairman Gilles Darmon.
“The coronavirus has upset the delicate economic balance and pushed tens of thousands of new families into economic hardship and poverty,” he said. “But it is the state that has created the conditions for this fragility, by previously refusing to invest significantly in those families to build social resilience.”
Latet measures poverty according to a household’s access to the essentials, such as housing, education, healthcare and food, as well as its ability to live within the cost of living index.
Some 656,000 households (22.6%) struggle to put food on the table day in and day out, compared with the 513,000 (17.8%) prior to the pandemic. Some 286,000 households suffer from extreme food insecurity – up 8.8% from the onset of the coronavirus outbreak.
Around 422,000 households found themselves falling on hard financial times amid the pandemic. Compared to last year, when 24.1% were in this category, an additional 14.5% (totaling 38.6%) of Israelis found themselves struggling to make ends meet.
Notably, some 77% of households suffering from financial hardships are Jewish families, compared to the year before where only 58% of Jewish households reported slipping into poverty.
Additionally, a staggering 86% of elderly citizens in need are experiencing loneliness, following the issuance of social distancing orders and subsequent lockdowns worldwide. More than a fifth (21.6%) fear that they will die at home without anyone knowing.
Latet sampled 1,818 Israelis, aged 18 and over, using a series of questionnaires, to gather data for its Alternative Poverty Report, through the months of September-October 2020.
“This is one of the most difficult and painful reports that I have ever seen,” said President Reuven Rivlin, who has been given poverty reports prepared by various sources over the years in the Knesset, in government and in the Jerusalem Municipality.
The 2020 report is without precedent, he said.
“The coronavirus pandemic erupted as a health epidemic and has developed into an unprecedented socioeconomic epidemic,” said Latet’s executive director, Eran Weintrob.
“We are in the worst economic crisis in the country’s history, which will take Israeli society years to recover from. We have to stop the bleeding, as hundreds of thousands of Israelis descend from a temporary crisis due to loss of employment into a life of poverty, from which it is difficult to impossible to recover,” he said.
“If the government does not invest tens of billions of shekels in the most vulnerable communities, the collapse will be inevitable and create social gaps that cannot be bridged.”
Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.