Nearly one in three children in Israel lives below the poverty line, according to figures from a National Insurance Institute report published Wednesday.
The review of poverty in Israel during 2014 was presented to Welfare Minister Haim Katz by Shlomo Mor-Yosef, the director of the National Insurance Institute.
Last year, the NII classed 1.7 million people as poor in Israel, including 776,000 children from 444,900 families, making the Jewish state one of the most poverty-stricken countries in the developed world. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, there are a total of 2,740,000 children aged 17 or under in Israel.
The data showed, however, that there had only been a small increase in the proportion of the population living below the poverty line, compared to 2014.
NII guidelines define poverty as any person whose income is less than NIS 3,077 ($792) a month or NIS 4,923 ($1268) for a couple.
A five-member family pulling in less than NIS 9,230 ($2377) a month is also considered poor.
The results put Israel’s poverty levels as the second highest among OECD nations, with only Mexico’s being worse. Israel was also second-highest for the rate of poverty among children, behind Turkey.
Poor people made up 21.8% of the population in 2013 and 22% in 2014, while poor families went from 18.6% of the total in 2013 to 18.8% in 2014.
Among families with children, 23.3% were considered poor in 2014 compared to 23% in 2013. The number of children living in poverty increased from 30.8% to 31% during the same period.
By contrast, the number of single-parent families who were living in poverty dropped from 27.5% in 2013 to 24% in 2014. Families that have only one source of income went from 29.5% living in poverty in 2013 to 30.2% in 2014.
Among the ultra-Orthodox, 54.3% were found to be below the poverty line, with two-thirds of the sector’s children living in poverty.
Katz defended government policy in dealing with poverty and vowed to make further progress by ensuring that those who are employed can earn a living wage.
“In the current budget, we increased the allowances for senior citizens who receive income support and created a tool for reducing inter-generational poverty in the form of a grant for each child — steps that will reduce poverty,” he said.
“We will defeat the perverse phenomenon in which people who join the workforce are poor and cannot make it to the end of the month,” Katz promised. “The state is obligated to support struggling populations and provide security for anyone who, for justifiable reasons, cannot work.
“The greatest responsibility of the country is to give the working man the capacity to earn a respectable salary. Poverty is not a fate, and with correct planning we can reduce the level of poverty in Israel.”
Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union called for an inquiry into the country’s poverty.
“Poverty is a war that has hundreds of thousands of victims,” Herzog said. “Netanyahu must answer for that.”
“The poverty report doesn’t interest the prime minster,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “Why? Because poverty and the poor don’t interest the prime minister. He has no time for them.”
Referring to Netanyahu’s stint as finance minister in 2003-2005, Herzog said: “Netanyahu is the one who pushed whole strata of the population into poverty in 2003 and he did it again in 2013 and on, with an outlook of [greedy] economics at the expense of those struggling in society.”
The NII said the rise in the number of poor families is partly due to the reduction in child benefits in August 2013.
“I suggest the government sets long term macro-social targets to reduce poverty and inequality in income,” Mor-Yosef said.