NGO: Israel's Poverty Rates Higher Than Official Data Shows

In offering alternative to National Insurance figures published last week, the Latet organization slams gov't policy, seeks to change public discourse.

Lior Dattel
Lior Dattel
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The belongings of a homeless person in Tel Aviv.
The belongings of a homeless person in Tel Aviv.Credit: Alex Levac
Lior Dattel
Lior Dattel

Roughly one-third of all Israelis suffer financial hardship and are unable to cope with the high cost of living and provide for their family’s needs, according to a study conducted by Latet, the umbrella group of Israel’s food organizations.

Latet presented its data as part of an effort to provide an alternative to the official figures presented last week by the National Insurance Institute.

Conducted in cooperation with a company called ERI (effective research and social impact), headed by Gilad Tanay, the Latet study shows that about 29.8 percent of the country's population live in poverty, with about 13.8 percent suffering from conditions of severe poverty. The report also found that about 35.1 percent of Israeli children are poor, while among the Arab and ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) communities, that rate surpasses 40 percent.

These statistics differ from the data published by the NII, which are based on income figures. Thus, according to the NII, 18.6 of all families, 21.8 percent of the population, and 30.8 percent of children in Israel are poor. According to Latet’s report, the poverty rate among the Arabs and Haredim is lower than the rate indicated by the NII’s statistics. The reason for the discrepancy may be that some individuals manage to provide basic sustenance for themselves and their families despite their low income.

Latet officials say they are do not reject the NII statistics, but would like to change the popular discourse about the definition of poverty.

"Poverty is not just a virtual statistical line,” said Eran Weintraub, Latet’s executive director. “Even people who earn one shekel over the poverty line are still living in poverty, and we wanted to present a point of discussion on the topic.”

Latet’s statistics indicate that 41 percent of Israel’s population say they are in financial difficulty. Of them, 12 percent said that they are in severe, and even very severe, financial trouble. Thirty-four percent are afraid their situation will deteriorate further over the coming year, and about 20 percent of the public reported that they went without medication for financial reasons.

Furthermore, Latet's data show that 55 percent of the public believe that the policy of the government, before it disbanded, exacerbated poverty in Israel, which has one of the highest rates of poverty among developed countries, according to the NII and the OECD (after that of Chile and Mexico).

Eating from trash bins

The statistics from Latet’s new study reflect the severity of poverty in Israel, the despair of those who receive assistance from the nonprofit organizations, and the dire situation of the children living in poverty.

Forty percent of so-called needy parents (who receive food assistance from nonprofit organizations) had to do without medication or medical treatment for their children this year, and 25 percent of the children from those families went to bed hungry at least several times per month.

The Latet report also shows that about 10 percent of the needy children had to beg over the past year, and nine percent of them had to collect food from the floor or from trash bins. Thirty-six percent of the needy children had to work to help support their families over the past year – an increase of 44 percent from the 2013 statistics.

Ninety-four percent of elderly citizens who receive support said that their old-age allowances were not enough to allow them to lead a dignified existence or provide for their basic needs.

The official criterion in Israel for defining a person as "poor" is when the average disposable income per capita in his household is lower than half the median disposable income per capita in the country in general. This index has come under criticism in recent years, since on the one hand it does not take into account the standard of living in the household, which may so low as to approach poverty even if the income is higher than the poverty line, and on the other, does not include other statistics such as those relating to the cost of services they receive from the state or other assets that they possess aside from income. The definition of poverty also came up for discussion in War on Poverty Committee, chaired by Israel Prize laureate Eli Alaluf.

Says the chairman of Latet, Gilles Darmon Weintraub: “The new government has an obligation to put dealing with the problem of poverty and social disparities at the top of its priorities, and to carry out in full the recommendations of the War on Poverty Committee, including budgeting for the required resources."

"The lack of governance and political instability," he noted, "have led us to a situation in which after almost eight years of public struggle, four governments have come and gone, and despite the promises and commitments of three welfare ministers, not a single shekel has come from the state so far for National Nutritional Security Council."

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