Advocates Petition Court to Give Disabled Seniors Equal Benefits

Most people with disabilities saw their monthly benefits rise this year. For senior citizens, the increase was half of what others received

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A protest in Jerusalem demanding increased benefits for disabled people, June 2018.
A protest in Jerusalem demanding increased benefits for disabled people, June 2018. Credit: Emile Salman

Advocacy organizations representing old people with disabilities petitioned the High Court of Justice Monday demanding that their government allowances be increased by the same amount as the allowances given to younger people with disabilities.

In March, most people with disabilities saw their monthly allowances rise by 470 shekels ($130). But disabled senior citizens received an increase of only 235 shekels.

The difference stems from a provision of the National Insurance Law which says that nobody can receive more than one allowance, even if he is both elderly and disabled. A few years ago, this law was amended to say that if a disabled senior citizen’s old-age allowance is lower than the disability allowance he received before becoming a senior citizen, a disability supplement will be added to the old-age allowance. But people still can’t receive both allowances.

In 2009, the High Court ruled that the state can’t discriminate between disabled senior citizens and other disabled people. However, it said the state could end this discrimination in stages.

Now, the state is arguing that by raising the allowance for disabled senior citizens by only half the amount it raised the regular disability allowance, it is complying with the court’s ruling that it can end the discrimination gradually. The two petitioners — Ken LaZaken, an advocacy organization for senior citizens, and the Center for the Blind in Israel —disagree.

The issue arose after organizations representing the disabled reached an agreement with the government last September to gradually raise the disability allowance to 4,000 shekels a month. This agreement did not include disabled senior citizens.

The organizations and Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Minister Haim Katz then asked the Finance Ministry to grant the same increase to disabled senior citizens. But the treasury agreed to give them only half the increase. It obtained the money for this by reducing the increase given to other disabled people, such that when the phased increases end in 2021, their monthly allowance will total only 3,700 shekels.

This decision has also been assailed by the organizations, who say this allowance, which is more than 30 percent below the minimum wage, is too small to enable disabled people to live with dignity.

“We didn’t take the elderly into account, because we really did say that’s not an issue for this agreement; it’s a different issue,” admitted MK David Bitan (Likud) at a meeting of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee last September.

Alex Friedman, chairman of an advocacy group called Disabled is Not Half a Person and a leader of the fight to raise the allowances, said the addition to senior citizens’ allowances should have been financed by increasing the state budget, not by lowering allowances for other disabled people. “But the government refused, and this hurt both younger disabled people and the elderly, who didn’t get enough,” he said.

Yifat Solel, the legal advisor of Ken LaZaken, said that giving the elderly only half the increase given other disable people is “humiliating discrimination” and “part of a serious, sweeping problem of discrimination against senior citizens in Israel.”

This discrimination is especially ludicrous, she added, because “No one disputes that the needs of disabled senior citizens aren’t less than those of disabled people who aren’t senior citizens. Quite the contrary.”

“Discriminating against disabled senior citizens, who don’t block roads and don’t make headlines, is a stain on the government and the Knesset,” she added, saying she hoped the court would “put an end to ageism ... and rule once and for all that this is illegal discrimination.”

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