About ten months ago the Labor and Social Affairs Minister Shlomo Benizri set up a special unit to look into fraud among those who claim unemployment and supplementary income benefits. Benizri was immediately pounded with criticism for picking on the unemployed, when the real problem was a lack of jobs.
It is true the economy is in the worst possible state and work places are closing, but those who examine the job state in the field know that many do exploit the unemployment atmosphere. I recently met a contractor who once or twice a week, in an organized way, lets his workers go to "sign up at the Employment Service" for unemployment benefits. They immediately return to work for him and be paid under the table.
A carpenter told me he is desperate for workers but those who come all insist on being paid off the books "because I get supplementary income".
Two months ago Benizri's unit conducted a nationwide investigation and found half of all suspects were in fact impostors. This does not represent the population at large of course, just predetermined suspects, but it still amounts to a serious finding.
Last week, the results of a similar check in southern Israel were published and the picture was even more sobering. Of 64 supplementary income claims suspected of being fraudulent 59 recipients - 92 percent - did not deserve the supplement for various reasons, while all 26 suspect unemployment claims - 100 percent - were invalid.
Another matter looked into was residency. Of five claims examined, the recipients don't even live in Israel but continue to draw income supplements from the Israeli taxpayer. A summary of the 101 cases examined revealed 93 impostors or con artists fooling the system.
Benizri is therefore right in trying to separate impostors from genuine cases, but he has failed in every aspect of doing the job. The Employment Service is currently in a labor dispute; Employment Service employees are not issuing permits for foreign laborers; the Ravivi committee disqualified the minister's candidate for director general of the service, Shalom Ben Hamo.
The fact is no director general can fix the service, an outdated institution whose employees do not want to, and cannot, find jobs for the unemployed. They do not want to confront applicants.
It is an institution that keeps increasing the number of those getting unemployment and supplementary benefits - but every request from an employer for it to supply workers ends in despair.
Hence the solution to the unemployment problem lies not in creating a special unit to find impostors, but in closing down the Employment Service entirely. Its work should be transferred to the private sector. Then we will see a sharp drop in the number of unemployed - to the great benefit of them and us.
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