30% of Israeli Children Living in Poverty; Arabs, Haredim Worst Affected, Report Claims

Israel National Council for the Child nonprofit warns that child allowance cuts mean more families are unable to escape impoverishment.

An Israeli child living in impoverished conditions.
Yaron Kaminsky

The number of children living below the poverty line in Israel has quadrupled over the past three decades, according to a report released Monday by an Israeli nonprofit advocating for children’s rights.

The report by the Israel National Council for the Child said the poverty rate among children was 30.3 percent in 2015 – the highest rate among developed countries.

By the end of 2015, 839,377 out of a total of 2,768,000 Israeli children were living in poverty.

There were huge poverty gaps between Jewish and Arab children. While a fifth of Jewish children lived beneath the poverty line in 2015, two-thirds of non-Jewish children did so.

The rate of impoverished Arab families with children rose from 52.8 percent in 2000 to 65.6 percent in 2015. In addition, 61.8 percent of ultra-Orthodox children lived in poverty in 2015 – triple the rate for other Jewish children.

The geographical variations were also prominent. The poverty rate was 58.2 percent in Jerusalem and 42.7 percent in northern Israel – more than double the rates in Tel Aviv and the center of the country (19.1 percent and 12.7 percent, respectively).

A quarter of children live in the three lowest socioeconomic deciles, while and only 32 percent live in the top half of socioeconomic deciles.

The data indicate that state payments to citizens – including unemployment benefits and child allowances – shrank, and no longer provide any significant relief for families to escape the poverty cycle.

In 1980, before allowance payments commenced, the child poverty rate in Israel was 15.4 percent. The allowances which started that year cut that rate in half. The allowance for the first child was canceled in 1985, and the right to an allowance for a family in which the head of household earned over 95 percent of the national average wage was eliminated. The state stopped paying the allowance for the second child in 1990. By 2000, the child poverty rate stood at 35.7 percent, but dropped to 25.2 percent after providing the allowances.

Cuts in allowances intensified after 2002, when the government passed laws that led to massive cuts in child allowances. By 2015, the ability of these allowances to reduce poverty was reduced even further: Allowance payments only narrowed the poverty rate from 34.7 percent to 30 percent in 2015.

“There is too much distress and not enough solutions in the fields of education, welfare, health, law enforcement and protection of children,” said Vered Windman, executive director of the National Council for the Child. “The annual report’s data stress that reducing direct taxes and cuts in the budgets of ministries serving children will not bring relief to at-risk children, nor to those below the poverty line,” she added.

The report also highlighted children’s medical, psychological and legal situation. In 2016, Israeli welfare agencies recognized 448,730 children (16.2 percent of all Israeli children) in cases regarding mental and legal issues. That figure reflects a constant rise totaling 54.5 percent since 2001, when there were just 290,417 children in the welfare system.

The number of at-risk children has more than doubled since 2001, to 367,000 in 2016.

Likewise, there was a sharp 134 percent rise in the number of children and teenagers who were admitted to psychiatric care between 1993 and 2015.

The number of criminal cases for sex offenses against children also grew – from 1,717 in 2011 to 2,439 in 2015, a 42 percent increase.

In contrast, there was a slight drop in the number of children suspected of criminal offenses: from 23,257 in 2005 to 21,211 in 2015.