1.8 million Israelis, half of them children, live in poverty — government

National Insurance Institute report ranks country’s child poverty rates second to bottom in OECD; MK decries ‘one of the deepest social crises’ Israel has known

A man looks through garbage in the Florentin neighborhood of Tel Aviv. November 12, 2019 (Sara Klatt/FLASH90)
A man looks through garbage in the Florentin neighborhood of Tel Aviv. November 12, 2019 (Sara Klatt/FLASH90)

Poverty in the Israeli population rose by a percentage point in 2018, according to an annual report released by the National Insurance Institute on Tuesday.

The report indicated 469,400 families consisting of 1.8 million people were designated as under the poverty line in 2018. Some 841,000 of those people were children.

The data, which did not include East Jerusalem, showed poverty rates had risen from 19.4 percent in 2017 to 20.4% the following year. Meanwhile child poverty climbed by two percentage points, from 27.1% to 29.1%. Poverty among the elderly also increased, from 17.2% to 18.8%.

The children’s poverty rates place Israel as second to bottom in the OECD rankings, with only Turkey lower.

Arab poverty also rose, and remained much higher than in the rest of the population, from 42.6% to 44.2%.

The poverty line in 2018 was defined as an income of NIS 3,593 ($1,040) a month for singles and NIS 5,750 ($1,664) for couples (every child raises the bar further).

The authors of the report noted that it was difficult to include figures from East Jerusalem, which is under Israeli control, due to unreliable data and sampling problems. (When including that problematic data, child poverty rises from 29.6% in 2017 to 30%, while overall poverty goes down from 18.4% to 18%.)

The depth of poverty also worsened: Poor families were averaging an income 32% below the poverty line, up from 27.7% in the previous year.

Gaps between men and women also grew, with female poverty rising by 0.2% and male poverty decreasing by 0.8%, increasing the overall gap by 1%.

The NII noted that economic growth and salary raises in 2018 boosted the general quality of life in the country and income rose by an average 4.1%, leading the poverty line to go up accordingly, which in 2017 was at NIS 3,423 ($990) for singles and 5,477 ($1,585) for couples.

The data placed Israel at 10% higher on the Gini index of income inequality than the OECD average.

View of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, on December 14, 2017. (Dario Sanchez/Flash90)

Referring to the aforementioned unreliable data that included East Jerusalem and saw overall poverty rates dip, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the report, praising “the achievements and upward trend reflected” in it.

“We brought a swift rise in the income of all sectors of society and particularly a dramatic 6.9% rise in the income of the weakest sectors, which brought about a decline in the rate of poor families… We will continue to decrease poverty… and work toward increasing stipends for the elderly,” said the prime minister.

NII director general Meir Spigler was more reserved, saying: “We have much work ahead of us. The government is committed to continue to expend efforts to decrease poverty rates significantly, with a focus on senior citizens.”

Others were less gentle.

The Latet organization, which provides various welfare and food aid services to the poor, said: “Contrary to the press release by Welfare Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, today’s poverty report attests to a preservation of poverty, and besides minor improvements to the number of poor families — which according to the report is the result of sampling difficulties and a lacking representation of East Jerusalem Arabs — points to worsening poverty rates among children and a worrying deterioration and deepening of poverty rates among the elderly.”

It warned it expected those trends to increase in the 2019 report next year and accused the government of “a continued policy that forsakes a quarter of Israeli citizens and a third of its children.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on December 22, 2019. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

A report by Latet earlier this month was even less charitable toward the government, saying some 2.3 million Israelis, including one million children, live under the poverty line. It also found that nearly one-fifth of Israelis, over 1.6 million people, suffer from food insecurity, a 2-point increase over last year.

Vered Windman, executive director of the Israel National Council for the Child, said the NII report showed the failure of the government’s economic and social policies. She also blamed the lack of a functioning government over the past year amid repeated elections.

“There must be a dramatic change in Israel’s socioeconomic policy in recent years, which dooms almost one in three children to lacking health, education and welfare and harms their human dignity.”

MK Orly Levy-Abekasis speaks during a conference of the Israeli Television News Company in the Jerusalem International Convention Center (ICC) on September 3, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

She warned that such disparities “will have far-reaching social consequences in the future.”

The figures also drew concern from Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz.

“The State of Israel has to change its course in the areas of education, priorities and growth. Macro data hides what is happening at the micro level – particularly in the social and geographical peripheries. Israel needs a government that will work for its citizens,” said Gantz in a statement.

MK Orly Levy-Abekasis of Labor-Gesher, who has a history of championing social causes in the Knesset, lamented: “We’ve forsaken the elderly to die of cold and hunger and left children out in the streets. Israeli society is in the midst of one of the deepest social crises it has known.”

MK Ilan Gilon of the Democratic Camp said the report “best summarizes the decade of Netanyahu, who chose to fight the poor instead of fighting poverty.”

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