Court: State must provide social safety net

Court says budget cuts did not violate right to live in dignity

The High Court of Justice on Sunday rejected petitions to cancel budgetary laws and government decisions cutting social benefits for the needy on the grounds that they violated the rights of the recipients to live in dignity. An extended panel of seven justices headed by Supreme Court President Aharon Barak approved the ruling by a vote of six to one. The dissenting voice belonged to Justice Edmond Levy. The court ruled that the fact that National Insurance Institute welfare payments and other social benefits were cut did not, in and of itself, prove that the victims could no longer live in dignity. Barak, who wrote the main decision, said each case had to be judged on its own merits and according to the specific facts of the individual involved. On the other hand, the court declared that the 1992 Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom did guarantee certain basic social rights to every Israeli. "It is the state's obligation deduced from the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom to provide a 'safety net' to society's poor, such that their material condition will not bring them to life-threatening want," wrote Barak. "In this context, the state must guarantee that each person will have enough food and drink to sustain him, a place to live where he will be able to have privacy and maintain family life and be protected from the elements, [and] he must have tolerable sanitary conditions and health services that will guarantee him access to the capabilities of modern medicine." The court said explicitly that if the state failed to provide the above safety net, the injured party could always turn to the court for redress. "The human dignity of a person living in Israel is dependent on the totality of his living conditions, as they are reflected in the condition of society and the basic values that guide it," wrote Barak. "Human dignity is damaged when a person tries to maintain the life of a human being in the society to which he belongs, but finds that his means are insufficient and his strength too meager. Such a person is entitled to have the state take action to protect his dignity. "If it emerges that the state has violated, despite all the various supports it offers, this obligation, whether by legislation or other acts of government, the injured party is entitled to obtain an order from the court instructing the state to fulfill its obligations and supply the person with the necessary means to sustain his existence in dignity. This order may apply to a single circumstance or a category of similar circumstances." But before such a ruling can be made, continued Barak, the petitioner must present the court with "all of the facts so that it can determine whether or not his dignity has indeed been harmed. This includes proper documentation of sources of income and the petitioner's fixed and routine expenditures." Barak added that the petitioners had presented only general arguments to back their petition. Without receiving evidence based on the effect of the cuts in social benefits to specific individuals, the court could not determine whether they could no longer live in dignity. "The petitioners asked us to determine that the cuts in the social welfare benefit caused damage to human dignity," wrote Barak. "The question of whether or not the right to live in dignity has been damaged... is assessed according to the outcome [of the cuts]. In this case, the petitioners did not provide evidence proving that as a result of the cut in welfare benefits, the dignity of certain individuals was damaged."