A group of some 15 disability rights activists on Wednesday morning briefly sealed off the Rishon Lezion street where coalition chairman MK David Bitan (Likud) resides, to protest what they view as an insufficient increase in benefits to the severely disabled.
Some carried signs reading, “It is our right to live in dignity, like everybody else.”
The activists are demanding that the benefits for those deemed unable to work due to their disability be matched to the minimum wage.
Protests by activists have dragged on for weeks as the government and rights groups seek a compromise amid various multi-billion-shekel proposals for upping benefits. An agreement reached in early October, negotiated in part by Bitan, would up the maximum disability benefit from a government-proposed NIS 3,200 ($908) per month to NIS 4,500 ($1,280), just short of the NIS 5,000 ($1,420) minimum wage.
The higher stipend would also rise faster than in the past, as it would be pegged to the average wage — a key demand of activists — and not, as before, to the consumer price index, which has risen more slowly in recent years.
According to Channel 10 news, the activists outside Bitan’s home belong to a group calling itself the “Panthers” that rejects the compromise agreement. They argue that the minimum wage is calculated to the minimal needs of a working individual, which are not greater than the minimal needs of a severely disabled person. They say at least half of Israel’s disabled agree with them.
Under last month’s deal, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others called “historic,” benefits for the majority of Israel’s disabled, some 244,000 citizens, would more than double from an average of NIS 700 per month to NIS 1,800 ($200 to $511) in four gradual increases between January 2018 and January 2021, at a total cost of NIS 4.2 billion ($1.2 billion) to the public.
Those eligible for the maximum stipend of NIS 4,500 per month will begin receiving it at the start of 2018.
The deal also lowered the income threshold for eligibility for the disability stipend. Whereas an income under NIS 2,800 ($795) per month would qualify one for a stipend under current regulations, as of January 2018 that cut-off rises to NIS 4,300 ($1,221), upping the number of disabled Israelis eligible for the benefit.
The government also pledged to reexamine the possibility of matching the maximum stipend to the minimum wage by the end of 2021.