Less than a week after the National Insurance Institute published statistics saying that 1.65 million Israelis lived under the poverty line in 2013, umbrella aid group Latet released its own report Monday, claiming nearly a million more Israelis — totaling a third of the country — are living in poverty.
Latet also reported a significantly higher poverty rate among Israel’s children, upping the government figure of 756,900 children living below the poverty line in 2013, or 28 percent, to 932,000, or 35%.
The report sparked a bitter political row, with former president Shimon Peres slamming the government, and Likud MKs hitting back.
Official government poverty figures are based on income, while Latet’s figures are based on surveys of the Israeli public.
The study asked 629 adults about the cost of living, food security, housing, health and education. It then categorized as “poor” those who reported lacking full access to at least three of these categories, and as “severely poor” those who reported “severe” lacks.
Latet’s findings (Hebrew link) were based on surveys conducted by the group as well as by three independent research institutes over the second half of 2014. The group also polled 102 welfare activists and aid organization heads about housing affordability, education, health, food security and the ability to meet the cost of living.
According to findings, 31.6% of Israelis live in poverty as of 2014, including 13.8% who live in “extreme poverty.” Another 16.7% of Israelis experience shortages of adequate food, and 5.9% don’t have enough money to purchase urgent medical supplies.
Of the children recorded on welfare lists, 36% were forced to work in order to financially assist their families, 22% went to school without a packed lunch on a daily or weekly basis, while 32% had to move to boarding school because of economic hardships — a 22% increase from last year.
The study’s margin of error was 4.5%.
By utilizing an alternative poverty index that includes subjective impressions of cost of living and basic survival needs, Latet’s dispatch gives “a more accurate understanding” of hardship in Israel, according to officials at the organization.
The National Insurance Institute defines poverty in “a one-dimensional manner” by relying on only one parameter — disposable income — an insufficient measure for 2014, the report said.
“Nobody cares about the poor, certainly not the government,” Eran Weintraub, CEO of Latet, said.
“Combating poverty is a war of necessity as important as that against [terror organizations] Hamas and Hezbollah, because every third child living in destitution on a daily basis is also an existential threat to our society,” Weintraub said.
“With the impending [March 2015] elections, we need to ask ourselves: what is what is more important, defense and security … or financial and social security?” he added.
Following the report’s publication, former president Peres criticized the government, saying “you can’t feed hungry children and elderly people with proclamations to the media.”
“This report is fierce indictment against ourselves,” Peres said. “The parties must make treating the needy a priority in the elections.”
The Likud party responded saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government “raising the minimum wage to NIS 4,300 in 2011 was action. Not declarations.” It proceeded to catalog a number of Netanyahu administration accomplishments, and said that “the sole declarations are the baseless vilification of Netanyahu and Likud by leftists.”
Former finance minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party in response castigated Netanyahu, claiming that during his term he funneled money away social services to settlements in the West Bank.
“Netanyahu prefers to transfer hundreds of millions of shekels to isolated settlements in a gesture to the Likud Central Committee and continues to ignore the plight of Israeli society,” a statement released by the party read.
“The poverty figures are a poor report for the prime minister. Netanyahu wants a visitor center in the Shomron [Samaria region] instead of medication for the elderly, hot meals for schools and funds for children to buy textbooks,” the party said.
Other political figures also used the data to take a jab at Netanyahu, including MK Itzik Shmuli (Labor Party) who accused Netanyahu of “eating pistachio flavored ice cream every night” while more people sink into poverty.
Shmuli’s remark referred to an April 2013 uproar over Netanyahu’s annual taxpayer-funded ice cream budget of NIS 10,000 ($2,550), ostensibly spent on his favorite pistachio and vanilla flavors at a Jerusalem ice cream parlor.
“We thought that poverty rate was only ‘bad.’ Now it turns out that the situation is ‘catastrophic,'” Shmuli told Yedioth Ahronoth Monday.