Almost a Third of Israelis Living in Poverty Since COVID Hit, Report Finds

143,000 more families became food insecure since the pandemic began; Nonprofit founder says 2020 is the worst year for poverty in Israel

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A woman living in poverty looks out her apartment window in Haifa, 2014.
A woman living in poverty looks out her apartment window in Haifa, 2014.Credit: Rami Chelouche

The poverty rate in Israel jumped from about a fifth of all families to almost a third since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic this year, figures from the annual “Alternative Poverty Report” from the Latet (To Give) nonprofit organization show.

According to the report, in 2020, the poverty rate rose from 20.1 percent, or 582,000 households, to 29.3 percent, 850,000 households. This means 268,000 families fell into poverty – and 143,000 additional households face food and nutritional insecurity.

Latet’s data show that 422,000 Israeli households are in financial distress – a rise of 14.5 percent since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. Out of 656,000 families (22.6 percent) living in nutritional insecurity, 286,000 (9.9 percent) of them live in dangerously low nutritional insecurity.

Before the pandemic, 513,000 Israeli households had low nutritional insecurity (17.8 percent) and 252,000 (8.8 percent) had severe food insecurity – according to data from the National Insurance Institute for 2018.

The NII has not released new figures on food insecurity since 2018, when the data for 2016 was published.

Gilles Darmon, the president and founder of Latet, said the alternative poverty report this year is without a doubt the worst ever since Latet began researching poverty in Israel over 15 years ago.

"The report testifies to the unprecedented scope of the social disaster that we are experiencing at the height of the coronavirus crisis, which is a true tragedy," said Darmon. “Nonetheless, it would be dangerous to think that the coronavirus crisis is a temporary period in the history of our country. We are experiencing the birth of a new reality in Israeli society.”

“The government’s failure is even more jarring and the underprivileged groups were at the bottom of the political priorities because of their inability to make their voices heard and apply pressure on decision makers. In light of all this, it begs the question: Are we at the beginning of a ‘lost decade’ for the underprivileged classes in Israel?” added Darmon.

Of the general population in Israel, 50.7 percent reported a severe deterioration in their economic situation because of the coronavirus outbreak, and 19.6 percent reported severe damage to their health, according to the report.

Almost a quarter of the families in Israel, 23 percent, report their economic situation is good or better during the crisis, compared to 45 percent before the coronavirus outbreak. Of those who receive aid, 62 percent say their financial situation has become much worse or very much worse, and 55.6 percent of those who receive aid say their debts have grown during the crisis.

A fear of loneliness

The report included a number of studies based on surveys of representative samples of all parts of Israeli society, aid recipients and the heads of food aid nonprofits. The calculation of the poverty line used by Latet is based on the NII’s criteria.

The report also said that 86 percent of the elderly who receive support have experienced a feeling of loneliness during the crisis. 21.6 percent of the elderly who receive aid feared that they would die in their homes without anyone knowing.

In addition, 73.9 percent of those receiving aid said they do not own a computer for distance learning, and 70 percent of the families that receive aid are unable to buy basic school supplies.

President Reuven Rivlin commented on the report on Wednesday, saying that it “demonstrated how the coronavirus crisis has turned from a health crisis into a broad and deep economic and social crisis. Alongside the concrete harm to the middle class, it turns out that the most vulnerable groups are suffering in the harshest way during the present crisis.”   

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