The social, economic, health and educational gaps between Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens are continuing to grow, mostly as a result of unfair government policies and prejudice from the Jewish population, a study published Wednesday has found. Now in its third year, the Equality Index of Jewish and Arab Citizens in Israel, published by Sikkuy, the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality, cites growing housing shortages and a looming welfare crisis as the main concerns facing the country's 1.5 million Arabic-speakers. "The index shows an alarming picture: that the gap between Jews and Arabs has increased by almost five percent in just two years," commented Ron Gerlitz, co- executive director of Sikkuy. Lawyer Ali Haider, the other co-executive director and editor of the annual index, told The Jerusalem Post that "the government simply does not provide the necessary budgets needed for the Arab population. "More funds are provided for the Jewish population," he said, adding, "Over the past few years we have seen more and more legislation passed against the Arab population and this attitude only encourages racism and mistrust among the Jewish population." Haider said that the report was based on information and studies published by various government ministries and that it focused on five main areas where inequality is clearly evident: education, social welfare, housing, labor and health. According to the index, the country invests one-and-a-half times as much in the welfare of its Jewish citizens as it does its Arab citizens, with Arab social workers having 50% more casework than those in the Jewish sector. On average, a social worker in the Arab sector treats some 501 clients, as opposed to 335 by social workers in the Jewish sector, the report found. It also noted several cases of non-Arabic speaking social workers sent to work in the Arab population. The index also revealed that there is a shortage of some 40,000 housing units for young Arab-Israelis, deriving from the fact that the Construction and Housing Ministry initiates 13 times more building projects for Jews than it does for Arabs. The survey also said that the quality of building and technical specifications in housing for the Arab population is significantly lower than for the Jewish sector. The result, said the organization, is extreme crowding in Arab areas and a lower quality of life for young couples. With regard to employment, the picture was equally bleak, with one out of every two Arab academics unemployed and some 5,000 Arab academics forced to retrain in fields that are not academic. This has meant that Arabs are drastically under-represented in leading fields such as hi-tech, banking and finance, according to the index's authors. The report also showed that only six percent of government service are Arab-Israelis, even though Arabs make up about one-fifth of the population and despite a government directive stating that there must be at least 12% Arab representation in this sector. The gap between the two populations is acutely obvious in statistics of infant mortality - the rate of infant death in the Arab population is 2.5 times higher than in the Jewish population. For every 1,000 Arab births there are 8 deaths, as opposed to only 3.2 among Jews. Education was the only area where the study showed a slight closing of the gaps between Jews and Arabs. In particular, there has been a significant improvement in the percentage of Arab children ages 3-4 attending formal educational frameworks, an increase from 57% in 2007 to 66% in 2008. "The government must immediately formulate a comprehensive, budgeted program with clear goals and timetables, together with the Arab leadership, for both closing these gaps and eradication of discrimination and racism," stated Haider. "This is a burning need, especially in light of the fact that there is no mention of civil rights for Arabs in this government's basic guidelines." The Welfare and Social Services Ministry immediately issued a response to the report, saying that resources to all populations are allocated in a fair and equal way. It claimed that the problems faced by local authorities in the Arab sector were due to the fact that leaders had not learned to properly utilize the budgets available to them. "In a meeting between the ministry's director-general, Nachum Itzkovitz and representatives of the NGO, it was proven that data collected for the index was not entirely correct and that information used was not directly from the Welfare and Social Services Ministry," the ministry's statement said.