Knesset Gives Initial Nod to Disability Allowance Increase

The Treasury opposes the measure due to its high cost. Its initiator, lawmaker Ilan Gilon, says the cost is the same as Netanyahu's recent 'shady' submarine deal with Germany

MK Ilan Gilon
MK Ilan Gilon. Olivier Fitoussi

The Knesset passed a bill on a preliminary reading on Tuesday that would more than double the monthly allowance paid to the disabled to equal the minimum wage.

Lawmakers voted 42 to 39, despite the treasury’s firm opposition to the proposal, due to its cost. 

The monthly disability benefit is 2,341 shekels ($616), while the minimum wage is 5,000 shekels ($1,315).

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who during last year’s election campaign had promised to substantially raise the monthly disability benefit, rebuffed the entreaties of advocacy groups to support the bill, sponsored by Meretz MK Ilan Gilon.

Instead, the budget for 2017-18 includes a mere 100 shekel per month increase.

Gilon’s bill must pass three more Knesset votes and may be amended or stonewalled in committee. 

Before Tuesday's vote Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz read out the government’s objection to the bill, noting it would cost 6.8 billion shekels over two years. He then left the plenum.

Several other coalition members also left the chamber before the vote, which is how the bill passed. During a previous vote in May, the measure was defeated by one vote because of government opposition.

There was a fierce argument during the debate in May between Gilon, who has a slight walking disability and sometimes walks with the help of a cane, and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.

“This is a great embarrassment for the government and a resounding victory for conscience and common sense,” Gilon said after the vote.

“When I submitted the bill last time, the government estimated its cost at six billion shekels for the first two years. A similar sum was only recently invested in three submarines, in that shady deal in which the prime minister’s associates are allegedly involved. 

“This just goes to show that the money is there, but the government’s priorities are different, with the disabled at the bottom,” Gilon said.

“I call on MKs from all the Knesset factions to rise above narrow considerations and to support my bill, which once and for all will do justice to the large population of people living on disability allowances.”

The disability allowance was last updated in 2001, while in the last 15 years the average wage has increased from 6,242 shekels in 2000 to 9,464 shekels in January 2016. Anyone living solely on the allowance earns far below the poverty line. 

“The tiny allowance paid today sentences a disabled person to a life of poverty,” Gilon said.

“It is meant to provide minimal sustenance, but it’s clear to all that it doesn’t come anywhere near providing for a disabled person who must buy medicines, pay to take public transportation or taxis, support his household, and sometimes employ a nursing aide, in addition to desiring to be involved in other parts of life, including culture and leisure activities.”