The dire plight of Israel’s most poor

No food, chronic health problems, no electricity - grim findings in new study.

Israel’s poor live in a much deeper state of poverty and are far more socially isolated than their counterparts in the United Kingdom, a study carried out by academics at Bar-Ilan University and the University of Bristol has found.
According to the research, which is to be officially published next week at a joint conference of the European Network for Social Policy Analysis (ESPAnet) and the Forum for Research on Social Policy in Israel, people living in poverty here are six times more likely to go without food than Britain’s poor and are four times more likely to have their phones or electricity disconnected.
Dr. Menachem Monnickendam, senior lecturer at Bar-Ilan’s Weisfeld School of Social Work, and Prof. David Gordon, director of the Townsend Center for International Poverty Research at Bristol University, worked together with funding from the British Academy to compare official statistics from both countries. The two told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that they were shocked by the findings of their research.
“The results surprised both of us,” Gordon said in a telephone interview from Britain. “When you look at headline figures, Israel has only a slightly higher poverty rate than the UK, so neither of us expected to find such stark differences, but the depths of Israel’s poverty is much, much worse than in Britain.”
Monnickendam, who is chairing Monday’s conference at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, said he was very alarmed by the findings.
“When all the data came out, I felt very, very uneasy. I was sure that the depths of poverty in Israel would not be as bad as in England. I was sure that Israel, a good welfare state, would come out looking much better than the capitalistic British state. But the results were very different to what I expected,” he said.
Using data from the Central Bureau of Statistics annual Social Survey and from the similar British research network, MORI, the two academics compared the lives of poor living in London and Tel Aviv.
To make the comparison more exact, explained Monnickendam, several elements highlighting the cultural, social and economic differences between the countries were removed.
Among other findings, the two researchers noted that Israel’s poor were much more likely to suffer from chronic health problems than those in the UK, with 52 percent of the poor here reporting chronic illnesses compared to only 32.7% in Britain.
Additionally, 16% of Israelis said their health conditions were a serious obstacle to everyday tasks such as grocery shopping, while only 1.3% in the UK reported the same. In Israel, 43% said they did not fill medical prescriptions from their doctors, compared to only 6.4% in the UK.
The study also found that 16% of Israel’s poor had admitted to going without food at least once in the past five years, while only 4% in the UK said the same, and 16% of the poor in Israel said their phone or electricity had been switched off, compared to only 6% in Britain.
“We also found that the poor in Israel have many social problems and sometimes are completely isolated socially, with many of them suffering from social problems and no one to help in the home,” explained Gordon, observing that “the social safety net in Israel does not seem to be working effectively for a large number of poor people.”
“Israel will have to make a choice in future, whether it is going down a free capitalist route like the US and [other places] where there are large disparities between rich and poor, or whether it will become more like places such as Germany [with social welfare assistance],” he said.
Gordon, who arrives in Israel on Saturday evening, said he would arguein his presentation at the conference next week that the cost ofpoverty for a country was much higher than that of actually solving theproblem.
“There has been a lot of research in the UK, and muchof it is applicable to Israel, about how it is extremely costly for astate to have a high rate of poverty,” concluded Gordon. “In Britain,poverty costs the state some €30 billion, a price much greater thanending poverty – and, of course, there are also the tremendous socialcosts of poverty such as social isolation, bad education outcomes andbad health. The bottom line is that poverty costs a country much more.”
Monday’sconference on poverty in Israel is the first such event to be organizedjointly under the auspices of the Forum for Research on Social Policyin Israel and ESPAnet, a European organization that only recentlyaccepted Israel as an official member.