Yom Kippur is an appropriate day not only for personal reckoning but also for general reckoning. Do we want to assure here a society that labors and lives from its own productivity or one that survives by schnorring (begging)?
In the past 15 years, the state budget has undergone dramatic changes. Expenditure on defense has decreased in relative terms, while social welfare expenditure has only increased. Although it is true that the defense budget in 2001 rose by NIS 3 billion and will go up in 2002 by another NIS 1.3 billion, this has been due to one-time expenditures resulting from the cost of fighting the intifada and concomitant strategic security considerations and is not part of a change in the trend to reduce military expenses.
The hope is that once these threats subside, defense spending will decrease to the level it was in 2000.
By contrast, payments for welfare benefits are only increasing year after year and are becoming an ever larger portion of the state budget. The more the number of people who live without working grows, the greater the amount of state funds that continues to go to them, the greater the tax burden becomes and the more the standard of living will decrease. And the gap between us and other Western nations will only grow and thus prompt an ever increasing emigration of citizens, who leave for economic reasons.
Our basic problem is the relatively low proportion of the population that participates in the work force. The rate of participation in Israel is the lowest of any Western country. Only 61 percent of men of working age in Israel actually work (among the ultra-Orthodox, the number is much lower, at 29 percent). The participation of women in the work force is also the lowest in the West - just 47 percent (and 42 percent in the ultra-Orthodox sector).
So, how do all those people manage to live without working? They live on the backs of the working portion of the population who are forced to carry the heavy burden. They live from the NIS 40 billion to be found in the welfare payment allotment in the budget.
In internal discussions in the treasury, Finance Ministry Director-General Ohad Marani contends that all allowances that encourage people not to work should be scrapped and that taxes should be lowered on those who get up in the morning and go to work. That way, it will be less profitable to live off the state and more worthwhile to go to work. That way, the economy will flourish and everyone's standard of living will improve. There are no plans to scrap old-age pensions or disability benefits, but only benefits which encourage the able-bodied to stay out of the work force.
Take, for example, child allowances. They are granted today without any relation to work, and that is absurd. Child allowances have become a tool that encourages non-work, particularly in the ultra-Orthodox and Arab sector. Therefore, the Ben-Shahar reform of 1976 should be scrapped and we should go back to the system where only those who work get a tax exemption for their children. That way, we will encourage those who make their contribution to society as a whole through their labor. And here's another suggestion: Let's get rid of guaranteed income benefits (but not unemployment benefits, which are justified). Today, some 140,000 people live from these benefits - and the number is increasing every year. The hour has come for a revolution - one that will encourage work, and give it the respect it is due.
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