Pensioners threaten to leave coalition due to budgetary cutbacks

Eitan: "I'm not prepared to be a minister in a government that discusses further deprivations for the elderly."

eitan 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
eitan 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Gil Pensioners Party has threatened to leave the coalition unless Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On withdraws harsh budgetary decrees, which party representatives say will cause even greater hardships for the elderly if implemented. At an emergency press conference held in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Pensioner Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan of the Pensioners Party castigated Bar-On, accusing him of causing grievous harm to senior citizens. Cutbacks on payments to the elderly were not a matter for negotiation, Eitan said. "I'm not prepared to be a minister in a government that discusses further deprivations for the elderly, and I urge the government to backtrack on this issue and to instruct the finance minister to immediately withdraw this threat to the well-being of the elderly," he said. "As far as I am concerned, the Treasury has ample financial resources to cover both social welfare and defense needs." It is unconscionable to harm social welfare, education and defense systems, he added, insisting that the Treasury increase the ceiling for the budget from 1.7% to 2.5%. This proposal had been voiced several times, he said, and there had been agreement on the part of the Treasury to begin implementation in the new budgetary year. The Finance Ministry proposals for the new budget do not include increasing old-age pensions or meeting the conditions set in an agreement made with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert a month ago, according to Pensioner Party faction chairman Yitzhak Galanti. The agreement with the prime minister was supposed to equalize old-age pensions by raising the amount widowers receive to that received by widows, hence addressing the current situation where widowers receive less. The latest proposals from Bar-On would lower the amount widows receive to make both payouts uniform, rather than raise them, Galanti claimed. The agreement with Olmert also included waving bank charges for pensioners. "The finance minister can't come along and annul these agreements with a wave of his hand," Galanti said. "We've reached a crisis point and if necessary, we'll quit the coalition and go to elections. We will not allow this situation which has existed since the beginning of the State to continue. We'll vote against the budget, and the Treasury will be forced to reach an agreement with us." MK Yitzhak Ziv, also of the Pensioners Party, spoke with similar passion. "We came to the Knesset to stop the abuse against pensioners and the elderly," he said. "The State has placed its hand in the pockets and bank accounts of the elderly and is ignoring a High Court ruling to equalize old-age pensions with those of widows and widowers. It is untenable that the Treasury should find ways to bypass a court decision and to take cost cutting measures at the expense of the aged." The latest budget proposal will also cut the 30% discount the elderly get on municipal rates and taxes. The Treasury must retract on such cruelty so that Israel's senior population can finish the month with dignity, Ziv said.