Gov't committee recommends new poverty parameters

charities concerned this was another tactic by establishment to manipulate poverty figures and not tackle growing problem.

poverty metro 88224 (photo credit: Jerusalem Post Archives)
poverty metro 88224
(photo credit: Jerusalem Post Archives)
As a specially-appointed government committee tasked with re-assessing what constitutes poverty in modern-day Israel presented its recommendations to Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On Tuesday, charities working with the country's weak and needy expressed concern that this was another tactic by the establishment to manipulate poverty figures and not tackle the growing problem. "I think we all need to ask whether the purpose of this committee was really to deal with the situation in the field, or just another manipulation on the definition of the poverty line in order to reduce the numbers," Eran Weintrob, general director of humanitarian aid organization Latet, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. Even if the government's intentions were genuine, Weintrob claimed, the committee's recommendations were "problematic" and did not go far enough to help those living below subsistence level break out of the poverty cycle and become independent citizens. Figures published last week by the National Insurance Institute found that between June 2006 and July 2007, 1,674,800 people in Israel were living below the poverty line, with 805,000 or 35.9 percent of the country's children officially considered poor. Statistician Prof. Shlomo Yitzhaki, from the Central Bureau of Statistics and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Department of Economics, was appointed head of the committee, which was created in December 2006 by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and then-finance minister Avraham Hirchson to evaluate how the poverty line is measured. While the committee, which also comprised government professionals and academic experts, has not called for the government to abandon its current evaluation method - currently based on measuring income - it has recommended parameters that would widen the definition of poverty. These include people's assets outside of their liquid income, consumption or expenses per family and whether their existence below the poverty line is permanent or temporary. The committee also suggested using the parameters set by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. "Every measurement of poverty parameters is problematic," commented committee member Prof. Omer Maov from the Hebrew University's Department of Economics and a Shalem Institute Senior Fellow. "That is why we have recommended additional measurements in order to get a fuller picture of the problems. It will help the government formulate policies and tackle the current problems." "Poverty is a wide-ranging phenomenon and it needs to be assessed with much more flexibility and depth," he continued, refuting that adjusting the criteria would significantly reduce the current poverty figures but highlighting that the additional measurements would help to monitor poverty trends over time. However, Dr. Momi Dahan of the Hebrew University's School of Public Policy and the Israel Democracy Institute was critical of the committee's recommendations, saying that there was no need to change the current poverty line standards. "I believe that if the situation in Israel were good, there [would be less] chance that such a committee would be created," he said, stopping short of accusing the government of overtly trying to reduce the numbers of those living below the poverty line. MK Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor), chairman of the Knesset's Interior Committee, also spoke out against the committee and its conclusion. "It would make more sense for the government to create a program focused on reducing poverty in general and the gaps between rich and poor instead of trying to manipulate the figures and overnight moving thousands of poor people into the middle-class category," Pines-Paz said in a statement. "Instead of trying to help poor people break out from below the poverty line, the government is trying to lower the line."