Researchers and academics from the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies called on the government Thursday to increase the portion of the state budget for social welfare benefits. They urged policymakers to take into consideration the country's growing poverty and socio-economic gaps in society while formulating the national budget for 2008. At a conference discussing social policy, Taub Center Director Ya'akov Kop said that Israel could "wave the social welfare flag without hurting economic growth." Kop said that despite the appearance of economic recovery over the past few years, the socio-economic gaps in Israeli society are continuing to grow, with more and more pressure falling on the financially weaker elements of the population. Researchers at the center noted that there had been a significant 12.5 percent reduction in the National Insurance Institute's budget, which has led to the lowering of child benefits, income support and pensions for the elderly. The NII's director-general, Dr. Yigal Ben-Shalom, who addressed participants at the one-day conference in Jerusalem, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview that Israel had to go back to increased benefits for weaker segments of the population and that cuts to state pensions for the elderly were a mistake. "The government is starting to make a change in this direction," he said, adding that the next step had to be implementing a policy of negative income tax, which would implement or supplement a guaranteed minimum income for all workers.