Welfare Ministry drawing up plan to prevent families' slide into financial distress

'Once a family joins the social welfare system it ends up staying there for years. That isn't good for them, and it's not good for society.'

poverty garbage 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
poverty garbage 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The government is in the process of drawing a pro-active plan aimed at helping middle-class families before they seek welfare or social services, Welfare and Social Services Ministry Director-General Nahum Itzkovich, told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday. According to Itzkovich, as the current recession deepens, more and more families will need to seek assistance from the social welfare system. "Losing the breadwinner can create extreme economic stress, which in turn leads to increases in domestic violence, divorce and more children at risk," he said. Although the ministry has yet to calculate how many new families have joined the welfare system since the start of the current crisis, Itzkovich said there are already indicators from the field that many more families are experiencing severe financial stress. "Once a family joins the social welfare system it ends up staying there for many years," he told the Post, adding, "That situation is not good for the individual and it's not good for society as a whole." Itzkovich said that a NIS 6 million program is in development that would identify signs that a previously financially stable family might be seriously struggling. "I think of it as recognizing the preliminary symptoms of a serious illness and taking preventive measures to stop it from developing into a full-blown problem," he explained. "It's aimed at middle-class families who, until the start of the recent recession, were doing fine. If we can get them before they need to open a file with the social welfare services and give them the help they need in advance then they will never have to become part of that world," he said. The program, which will likely be outsourced to a non-profit organization, will draw up guidelines for educators, community workers and unemployment office staff on how to pick up on signs that a family is on a downward spiral. Statistics compiled by the ministry earlier this year show that during the 2002-2003 recession caused by the second intifada, the number of files opened by the social welfare services grew intensely. Following that recession, even as the unemployment rate started to drop, the number of social welfare cases failed to decrease in kind, but stayed constant even during the years of economic growth up to last summer. "This time around, we need to take serious steps to make sure that the social welfare services do not have to open up many more files," said Itzkovich. "We want to stop people before they reach rock bottom." In addition to the support plan for middle-class families, Itzkovich said the ministry had already started working with the nonprofit organization Pa'amonim to provide low-income families with life coaching and financial counseling. The ministry is looking to expand the life coaching model countrywide, he said. Meanwhile the National Insurance Institute announced Wednesday that there had been a five percent fall in the number of new people claiming unemployment benefits last month compared to the previous month. However, the institute warned that the decrease was minimal and the number of those receiving unemployment benefits had reached a high of 92,000.