By RUTH EGLASH
Six percent of Israel's needy children are forced to steal food when they are hungry and almost a quarter of the country's children being brought up in less affluent families are sent out to work to improve their household's finances, a report published Tuesday by the non-profit humanitarian aid agency Latet has found.
According to the organization's annual Alternative Poverty Report 2009, which is based on data collected from more than 100 food charities countrywide and on in depth interviews with individuals and families living below the poverty line, there has been a 15 percent increase in the number of people seeking welfare assistance from non-profit organizations over the past year. The rise is mainly due to the economic recession that hit late last year, the organization reported.
"For many people the economic crisis is just starting," commented Latet Director Eran Weintraub on Tuesday following a press conference about the report, which for the past seven years has offered a more personal approach to poverty than the statistical perspective provided by the National Insurance Institute's annual poverty report released last month.
"We are expecting that many more people in 2010 will join the already tens of thousands of individuals trapped in the cycle of poverty," said Weintraub, adding that non-profit organizations such as Latet are growing increasingly concerned that they will not be able to cope with the rise.
Among the findings of the report, the organization noted a growth of 10% in the number of people that lost their jobs over the past year due to the economic crisis, with 25% saying they were not optimistic about finding work in the near future.
While the situation grew more difficult for adults, the report highlighted the worsening conditions for the country's children.
Aside from the 6% of children admitting to stealing food, 20% of needy families reported that their children had become involved in violent activities due to the tough financial situation. In addition, 34% said they were fearful their children would eventually become involved in crime or start taking drugs because of the economic hardships their families faced.
Further, an overwhelming 62% of families said they could not provide their children with suitable food staples, while 45% claimed their young were not receiving even one hot meal a day, including at school or in after-school programs.
The report also found that the situation for 44% of those currently receiving food aid had significantly worsened over the past year, with 63% reporting that they are unable to purchase medical treatment or supplies due to their financial situation.
In its questions to the general public, the study found that 80% of the population believes that the government has failed in its attempts to stamp out poverty in Israel and 40% feel that government policies actually contributed to worsening the crisis.
According to the official National Insurance Institute report, 1,651,300 Israelis lived below the poverty line in 2008. Among these figures, 783,600 were children, a slight increase from 773,900 the previous year.
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