MKs move focus to poverty

'Alternative Poverty Report': Poverty is most urgent issue today, security is third.

poverty garbage 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
poverty garbage 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In response to a new poll indicating that Israelis rank poverty as their "most pressing concern," politicians refocused their campaigns on the war against poverty Tuesday. The report, released by the Latet organization, revealed that 81 percent of Israelis believe that the government's policy towards poverty was inadequate and needed to be reevaluated. The survey, which had been conducted among 500 participants, found that 29% of respondents named poverty as the number one problem, while 21% cited education and only 15% answered security. A Latet spokeswoman noted that the maximum sampling error margin was 4.5%. It was the first time that security had ranked less than second place since Latet began conducting the yearly poll, three years ago. Latet also noted that from last year, there had been a 50% jump in the number of needy families, with more than 17% of the newly-impoverished coming from middle class families. Party aides to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and Labor Chairman Amir Peretz both said that the poll would focus the election campaigns back to the issue of poverty, after both candidates turned their attention to defense after Monday's terrorist attack in Netanya. "When there is a terrorist attack everyone's attention immediately turns to defense, and in the past fear of violence had dominated elections," said a Labor Party official. "But poverty in Israel has reached a dire state and it will not - can not - be ignored in the upcoming elections." Across the political spectrum, politicians could be seen and heard turning their campaign rhetoric to the issue of poverty. Many opposition leaders lashed out at Sharon, with Peretz calling him the "prime minister of poverty." "With Sharon, poverty will carry on," Peretz told The Jerusalem Post, "The public will not forgive him for causing the deterioration of Israeli society." Sharon meanwhile defended his policies, and pointed to the current economic upswing as proof of his abilities. "I am glad that everyone remembers [the impoverished] now," Sharon said to an Israeli Business Conference in Tel Aviv Monday. "It's too bad they prevented us from approving the budget, including the plans for assisting the weak sectors." To emphasize his dedication to fighting poverty, Sharon, who traditionally pushed robust defense funding, denied Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz's request for an additional NIS 1.5 billion, saying that the money needed to be channeled foremost to fighting poverty. While in Jerusalem, former Shin Bet commander Ami Ayalon whom the Labor party has touted as one of their defense heavyweights, spent the evening Tuesday on a different note - touring the Talpiyot area and speaking with impoverished families there. Ayalon's visit will focus on the immigrant and Mizrahi families whom the poll found most likely to suffer from poverty. In addition to those groups, the poll established that most of the underprivileged are between 30 and 49 years old, female, and mothers to an average of 3.7 children. While many required medical care, most were likely to forgo it due to lack of funds.