Olmert, Fischer to fight social distress

Campaign to focus on issues, from education to the elderly to unemployment.

stanley fischer 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
stanley fischer 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Finance Minister Ehud Olmert and Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer presented their recommendations for the "war on social distress" to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Sunday evening, a Finance Ministry spokesman said Sunday. The multifaceted campaign will focus on a variety of fronts, from education to aiding the elderly to providing increased employment for haredim and other sectors. The recommendations came as the Central Bureau of Statistics released statistics showing that 22 percent of Israeli households live below the poverty line, compared with 14% in 1990. According to the report "Israel - a Social Report, 1990-2003," 29% of children in 2003 lived below the poverty line, up 7% from 1990. The report outlines major transformations in Israeli society in this period, and will be fully published later this week. Other data showed that in 2003, 14% of people over 20 years old reported that they had given up meals due to financial constraints. Arabs reported doing so more than Jews (21% compared with 13%), and senior citizens more than people aged 20-24 (13% compared with 8%). In addition, the report found that of the 70% of people over age 20 who required prescribed drugs, 16% decided not to purchase them due to financial problems. According to the program presented by Olmert and Fischer, a minimum NIS 14 billion budget would be earmarked for tackling poverty, to be spent over the next seven years. The platform provides different plans of action for each of Israel's various disadvantaged population groups, with the primary aim being to increase disposable income for needy families. Children would be the focus of various educational programs and efforts to improve nutrition. Elderly Israelis would benefit from additional degrees of eligibility for assistance, reinforced home assistance programs, and an increase in the number found eligible for day-care centers. To relieve poverty among haredim, the government would focus on integrating them into the workforce and encouraging employers to establish facilities where haredim could be employed in accordance with the sector's requirements. Israeli Arabs and Druse would benefit from efforts to encourage the establishment of industrial zones near their settlements, to reduce the number of foreign workers, and to focus on education. In response, Sharon instructed Olmert and Fischer to present a plan within a month that will detail expenditure for the above investments over the seven-year period. Sharon also instructed the team of experts studying negative income tax (NIT) programs - run jointly by the Finance Ministry and the Bank of Israel - to submit scenarios for implementing a NIT system. Sharon would then examine the alternatives and decide whether one will be adopted within the framework of the plan. "At present there is no budget [for 2006], and until there is one, it will be difficult to implement most of the ideas presented," the ministry spokesman said, adding that the NIS 14b. would be taken from an expected increase in state revenues provided by recent economic growth, as well as from cuts to other parts of the budget - "according to priorities" - excluding cuts to welfare spending.