Hundreds of middle-class people unemployed as a result of the economic crisis could end up falling through the government's social welfare net and find themselves ineligible for welfare benefits despite having paid National Insurance for their entire working life, The Jerusalem Post has learned "Even though I paid National Insurance for the past 16 years, it doesn't seem to count for anything," former hi-tech employee Ronnie Dan, who has not had a job for the past three months, told the Post this week. According to Dan - who worked in marketing and sales for Israeli hi-tech firm NDS here, in Britain and in France until this past summer and then for a small start-up company from August to October - he is not eligible for unemployment benefits because he worked abroad for more than a year and the project closed down, so he was not technically fired by the start-up. "I put in a request for income support and that was also turned down because our standard of living is too high to qualify," explained Dan, referring to the fact that he owns a car and has some savings. "It's a real injustice and very frustrating. I have been paying taxes all my life and now need a few months of help from the government, but there is nothing for me." Dan added that he did not recall a time when there were so few work opportunities in the sector. "It's a complete drought," he said, adding that he has been sending out his resume, but in three months has only been invited to two interviews. Dan is not the only freshly unemployed person to fall between the cracks in Israel's social welfare network, commented Dr. Roni Kaufman, a lecturer for the Department of Social Work at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. While the National Employment Service reported on Sunday that a record 17,500 people had lost their jobs in December, Kaufman estimated that there were many more who, because they did not qualify for employment assistance or financial aid, were not on the government's radar. "We are talking about a lot of people," he said, stressing, however, that there were no exact figures on how many unemployed or potentially unemployed could end up falling through the government's safety network. "We are also talking about small business owners and employers who, if not given the correct help at the right time, could also end up with nothing at all." "There is a big question mark today over whether it is the responsibility of the state to help these people," continued Kaufman. "In recent years, the government has decided to reduce its involvement and cut back on benefits." Even those who do receive unemployment benefits or income support are struggling to make ends meet, he pointed out. "There was a time when Israel was one of the best countries in the world when it came to social welfare benefits. Today, Israel is among the worst," said Kaufman. "Even though there were five years of economic growth in Israel, it did nothing to improve the poverty or hunger [situation] for thousands of people here." Financial concerns aside, Kaufman also said that growing unemployment could have a negative impact socially and psychologically on the nation. "Being unemployed is very traumatic, and if it continues for a long period of time without being dealt with, it could leave a person unable to contribute to society in any way at all," he said, asserting that the government needed to create a program as soon as possible to deal not only with the financial aid, but also prevent the possible social damage of widespread unemployment. "I'm not optimistic," concluded Kaufman. "There seems to be no real difference between the three main political parties, who put no emphasis on the socioeconomic situation at all and only talk about the physical security of the nation." A spokesman for the National Insurance Institute, which is responsible for the distribution of unemployment and other welfare benefits, said that it was not the role of the NII to decide who was eligible to receive government assistance. Pnina Ben-Ami, spokeswoman for Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog, told the Post Tuesday that the minister, together with the NII, was currently working on a far-reaching program that would address the growing economic crisis, rising unemployment and those who, like Dan, have fallen between the cracks. "The plan will be unveiled very soon," she said.