Public no longer perceives poverty as most pressing problem

Demand for food among needy up 103%; 78% of them can't provide children with school supplies.

poor man poverty 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
poor man poverty 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
For the first time in five years the Israeli public no longer perceives poverty as the country's greatest problem or even the second most urgent issue after security, according to the annual Alternative Poverty Report released Wednesday by humanitarian aid organization Latet. In a telephone survey of 500 Israeli adults, the nonprofit organization, which provides supplies and services to more than 120 smaller aid organizations throughout the country, found that for the first time since starting its Alternative Poverty Report five years ago, 50 percent of the general public considered education the most urgent issue that should be addressed by the government. "This demonstrates erosion in public awareness to the urgency of addressing the problem, even though poverty rates and scopes have not in fact diminished," the organization said in a statement. The survey was carried out two weeks after the current school strike started, it said. "It seems like people have had enough of hearing about poverty or being asked to donate," Latet general manager Eran Weintraub told The Jerusalem Post . "There has been some growth in the Israeli economy and maybe some people believe the most critical problems have been solved." However, he added, the findings of the report, which is also based on questionnaires filled out by more than 500 needy people utilizing Latet's services and by heads of all the charities linked to the umbrella organization, indicate that this is not the case. "I don't know if the number of cases has increased, but what I do know is that this problem is much wider and deeper than ever before," Weintraub said. "There is a huge gap between the needy public and the general population, and we are very concerned about that." This year's National Insurance Institute annual poverty report said 1.65 million people were living below the poverty line. The Latet document said demand for food among the country's needy over the past year had risen 103%. It said 78% of the needy were unable to provide their children with school supplies, up from 53% in 2006, an increase of 47%. There was also a 22% increase in the number of parents who could not afford to have their children take part in extracurricular school activities. Ninety-five percent of the needy said they were unable to independently afford dental care, compared to 19% among the general public, up 12% from 2006. "Out in the field we see that poverty runs very deep and that for thousands of Israelis it is hard to fulfill even the basic needs of their families," Weintraub said. According to Latet and the other organizations that see poverty on a day-to-day basis, government assistance is needed to address the problem. The report said 89% of the general public believe the government should take care of the problem. "We have already called on the government to set up a national body to fight poverty," Weintraub said. A petition signed by various NGOs had already been presented to the High Court of Justice earlier this year and the government had responded by setting up an interministerial committee to look into ways of tackling poverty on a national level," he added, but the committee had refused to make any concrete commitments. "Emergency aid should come from the government," Weintraub said. "It should not depend on the goodwill of the people or the efforts of NGOs. We can help, but it should be under their control." A spokeswoman for Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog told the Post a committee had been established to discuss ways to tackle poverty, but had not yet published its recommendations.