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In 1982, at the height of hyper-inflation and with the economy deep in crisis, the Knesset passed the guaranteed income law. The idea was to help the weakest - those unable to work. At the time, the number came to a little less than 10,000 households. In 1992, the Knesset passed the single-parent family law, which increased the benefits for a family with a child under the age of 7 to the point that the parent didn't even need to look for work. In 1994, the law to reduce the dimensions of poverty was passed, which further increased the allotments.

The state went so far as to rule that if a parent dared go to work and earn more than NIS 1,184 a month, the state would reduce the guaranteed income check by 60 agorot for every shekel beyond that figure. No wonder that is the maximum amount any single parent is ready to earn; in other words, that's why they will only take part-time work - at least that which gets reported to the authorities.

The results can be seen in the accompanying table, which shows the benefits before the cuts from a single-parent family with two children - a net sum NIS 6,780, part in cash and part in discounts and other benefits. To reach that same level of net income from actual work, the single parent would have to earn NIS 7,500 before taxes - an impossible mission for the vast majority of the protesters. In other words, the law encouraged them to live off the allotments and discounts - always at the government's table.

The problem came up with all its fury when the number of people getting guaranteed income grew, and now reaches 158,000 households. In other words, a 16-fold increase in 21 years, when the population only grew during the same period by 65 percent. When Silvan Shalom understood, in 2002, that the economy can't bear the growing weight and shrinking levels of participation in the work-force, he decided the moment to cut had arrived.

Guaranteed income was reduced to NIS 2,300, rent subsidies were cut to NIS 570 for those newly eligible, the free television license was canceled, the discount on public transportation disappeared, discounts on city taxes and kindergartens were cut, and the age of the child creating automatic eligibility was cut by two years. In other words, it was a serious economic blow.

Should Benjamin Netanyahu back down and reinstate the allotments in full, because of the protesting mothers? If he does, there will never be a chance to get any one of those mothers or any of the rest of the guaranteed income recipients into the job market. Moreover, the number of people getting guaranteed income will increase, because income from work won't be able to compete with the income from allotments and discounts. The minimum wage now is NIS 3,335 a month - less than the allotment before the cuts, let alone the rest of the benefits.

This is not merely a budgetary problem. It's a social-educational issue. What kind of society do we want here? One in which a growing number of people live off government handouts, don't work for a living, and feed off the work of those who do work and are suffocating from the weight of their taxes, or a society in which people work and are productive and don't need favors from anyone, not even from Netanyahu and Meir Sheetrit.