The Justice Ministry is working to change a law that deprives some 400,000 married women who don’t work of certain social benefits. The women affected, defined as “housewives,” are ineligible for various National Insurance Institute benefits enjoyed by other segments of the population, as a result of the law.
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Next month an expanded panel of the National Labor Court will hear an appeal initiated by the ministry’s legal aid department, which hopes to end the discrimination against housewives.
Under current law, men are required to pay tax to the NII from age 18 until they reach the legal retirement age of 67, even if they aren’t working. In exchange, they are eligible for all NII benefits.
In contrast, married women who aren’t working aren’t required to pay any NII taxes. But this means they also aren’t eligible for certain NII benefits. For instance, housewives are entitled to only the minimum old-age pension of 1,500 shekels ($400) a month, whereas people who have paid into the NII can receive higher pensions.
More importantly, however, between the ages of 62 – the legal retirement age for women – and 68, which is when they become eligible for old-age pensions, housewives aren’t entitled to any NII benefits at all, even if, for instance, they are disabled and would otherwise be entitled to a disability allowance.
Attorney Monder Ashkar of the legal aid department said this rule discriminates against housewives because it treats them differently from all other segments of the population. Housewives are the only segment of the population that suffers from this “coverage gap” between ages 62 and 68.
Due to this rule, many women have found themselves ineligible for NII pensions when they reached retirement age.
Ashkar and his department colleague, Rami Shomar, were moved to file the appeal by the case of D. Two years ago, D. turned 62, only to discover that this meant she was no longer eligible for her disability allowance. But because she was a housewife who hadn’t paid NII taxes, she was also not eligible for an old-age pension until age 68.
“I feel great disappointment with the system; I feel they’ve abandoned me,” D. told Haaretz. “The system gives us a [tax] exemption to make things easier for us financially, but on the other hand, it doesn’t let us receive allowances because of that exemption. I hope we can change the situation not just for me, but for all Israeli housewives.”
In their appeal, the lawyers argued that the coverage gap for housewives violates the principle of social security.
“There’s no real difference between a woman who isn’t working and a man who isn’t working,” they wrote. “But in this case, married women who don’t work, and they alone, are distinguished from the rest of the insured population and thrown out of the insurance cycle.”
The appeal noted that in the case of a homosexual couple in which one partner worked and the other served as the “househusband,” both partners would be eligible for NII benefits. The same would be true of a lesbian couple (since Israel doesn’t recognize gay marriage, so both partners are technically single), or of a married couple in which the woman worked and the man stayed home. Only in the case of a married heterosexual couple in which the wife doesn’t work does this coverage gap exist.
The legal aid department argues that no new legislation is required to give housewives equal rights; all that’s necessary is a more expansive interpretation of existing legislation. That reinterpretation is what the department hopes the National Labor Court will provide next month.
Specifically, Ashkar said, they are asking the court to rule that once a housewife’s eligibility for one type of benefit ends, she must immediately become eligible for a different benefit that will enable her to support herself with dignity.
The NII, which is the defendant in the case, has said several times in the past that it would like to amend the law to eliminate the special status of housewives, on the grounds that this is an archaic legal category irrelevant to the modern age.