Faced With the Coronavirus Crisis, Israeli Social Services Threaten to Implode

With a lack of appropriate state support, Israel is likely to see the ‘social epidemic blow up in our faces,’ social worker union boss says

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A soup kitchen in Tel Aviv in April last year.
A soup kitchen in Tel Aviv in April last year.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

Israel is facing an increase in complaints of domestic violence and sexual abuse, and more people seem to be dropping out of school. Meanwhile, social workers nationwide report a significant rise in the economic and mental distress of their patients — yet, the state’s social services are coming up short, a recent survey shows.

The survey “shows to what extent the coronavirus crisis – and the government’s faulty handling of it – is destructive to people’s economic, mental and social situation,” said officials from the Union of Social Workers, who conducted the survey among some 700 of their colleagues.

According to the data, 91 percent of social workers reported that people felt rising difficult in paying for vital necessities like food, housing, electricity and water. About 80 percent reported a rise in the requests for help for mental anguish, while 44 percent reported more complaints about domestic violence and 13 percent of sexual abuse increased. Some 60 percent of the interviewees reported increasing complaints of loneliness and 23 percent reported an increase in the abuse of drugs and other dangerous substances.

According to the survey, 85 percent of social workers reported a considerable increase in the number of requests, including, for more than half of them, from first-time users.

Spiking requests have put their ability to deal with issues appropriately, three quarters of respondents said, while 43 percent said they had beenforced to turn down more requests than before. A fifth said they were having difficulty to respond to emergency cases.

The number of students experiencing learning difficulties and dropping out of school also soared, 36 percent of the workers reported, with a quarter reporting rising demands for employment and professional training.

General distress has deepened “meteorically,” says USW chairwoman Inbal Hermoni, adding that communities that had previously never needed social services now cannot make ends meet.

“State investement in social has not increased in proportion to the growing needs,” Hermoni says. “Children stuck at home, teenagers studying on Zoom and the isolated elderly are suffering. Violence against women is rising. Social workers cannot help all of them, they can hardly deal with the most urgent cases. If the state doesn’t wake up and do what is necessary, the social epidemic will blow up in our faces.”

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