Welfare minister: 2012 to be year of social issues

One in five households receives support from welfare services, report finds; 61% of Ethiopian immigrants receiving treatment.

Kahlon 311 (photo credit: Avi Hayoun)
Kahlon 311
(photo credit: Avi Hayoun)
Social issues are no less important than other challenges facing the government and 2012 should see more focus than ever before on these problems facing society, Welfare and Social Affairs Minister Moshe Kahlon said on Monday.
He spoke during a press conference showcasing the programs his ministry provides for the country’s impoverished and weakest populations.
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The minister, who took up the position exactly a year ago, discussed the annual review of social welfare services. According to the report, more than 447,000 families, or one in every five Israeli households, received treatment from social welfare services in 2010.
While the figures are on par with those from the previous year, they mark a dramatic increase over the past decade in the number of adults and children needing help for a wide range of debilitating social problems.
Kahlon said that even though the ministry has vastly expanded its services over the past five years in an attempt to match that increase, it has still not been enough to reduce society’s problems and empower those in need to break out of the poverty cycle.
“There is still a wide gap between the needs of the people and what this ministry can provide them,” he said.
“Even after everything we have done it is still not enough,” he said, adding that he is already working on a mechanism that would monitor and assess all attempts to increase the costs of essentials such as water, electricity and food staples.
“I believe that 2012 will become known as a year for promoting social issues,” said Kahlon, drawing a distinction between the populist social justice protests that swept the country this past summer and the government agenda to tackle social issues facing lower and middle class populations.
“Previous governments dealt more with other issues like peace and security, and while those are important, the social issues are no less important,” he emphasized.
Despite criticism that the Welfare Ministry – similar to other government offices – has been increasingly opting to outsource or privatize some central programs instead of taking on the responsibility directly, Kahlon said that “the government is not turning away from its duties.”
Rather, he estimated that the total state budget for government programs dealing with social issues, including in the Ministries of Education, Health, Housing and the National Insurance Institute, receive more than NIS 250 billion annually. Kahlon also noted that the Welfare Ministry’s budget had only seen an increase over the past few years.
Ministry of Welfare and Social Services director-general Nahum Itzkovitz backed this up with data demonstrating that the ministry’s budget totaled more than NIS 4 b. annually, on top of the social programs and services provided by other ministries and the NII.
Even with this substantial sum and an increase in outreach programs, the ministry’s report shows that 1,319,000 individuals, or 17.1 percent of the population, were still in need of treatment from social services in 2010.
Compiled by the ministry’s Research, Training and Planning Division, the figures show a dramatic increase from the 298,000 families who received welfare treatment in 1998 to more than 447,300 families in 2010.
In addition to highlighting increased demands for social services in recent years, the report also lists key reasons people sought help in 2010.
Among the reasons: Parenting difficulties and youth behavioral problems at 35.2% of all case files; poverty or unemployment at 34.4%; atrisk elderly people at 33.3%; mental and physical disabilities at 31.9%; violence against children and general domestic violence at 4.1%; and addiction (alcohol, drug and others), prostitution and imprisonment at 3.6%.
The report revealed an unusually high number of Ethiopian immigrants receiving treatment.
From within the 110,000-strong community, the report found that 61.4% had open files with social services and even among those in the second generation, the chance of them having met with a social worker was twice as high as those outside the community.
Also cause for concern was the large percentage of Arab families receiving support from welfare services.
Some 25% of the country’s 1.5 million Arabs were seen by social workers in 2010, compared to 15.8% of the Jewish population.
Itzkovitz said this was the second year in a row that the ministry compiled a detailed report on its work, in an effort to create maximum transparency of its services.