Israel Leaves Thousands of Senior Citizens Laid Off During COVID With No Income, and No Solutions

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'The state is making me homeless.' Chen Inbar poses for a photo outside her home in Ashdod, this week.
'The state is making me homeless.' Chen Inbar poses for a photo outside her home in Ashdod, this week.Credit: Ilan Assayag

Some 20 thousand people in Israel over retirement age, who lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and have not found new employment since, are no longer eligible for the special adjustment stipend given to them in lieu of unemployment benefits.

Despite the fact that the National Insurance Institute has recognized in recent months that the number of unemployed people over the retirement age – 62 for women and 67 for men – hasn't decreased, the state has neglected to provide a safety net that will keep them from poverty.

During the early months of the pandemic, tens of thousands of Israeli workers of all ages were furloughed, and consequently received unemployment payments. As men and women over retirement age are not eligible for these payments, the government in April 2020 approved a temporary “adjustment stipend” as a substitute for financial support, which expired on Friday.

This stipend was given to those whose income from pensions is very low, or those who have no pension at all, and is conditioned upon Israeli residency, having worked for at least three months prior to being furloughed, as well as to being laid off for at least 30 days.

The sum was determined according to pension income in four brackets ranging from 1,000 to 4,000 shekels ($310-1,240) per month. In June, the government decided to extend the stipend by three months, but since then, 10 percent have been deducted each month from the original sum.

A man fills out forms at the entrance to a Jerusalem office of the National Insurance Institute, on Thursday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The Ministry for Social Equality, which is responsible for finding employment for older people, is now working on a new scheme, after seeing that the government's previous efforts to do so have returned a paltry 750 people back to the labor market in the past six months.

According to National Insurance Institute data, 20,400 people were eligible for the stipend in July, about 10,123 in August, and the estimates show that September’s numbers would be similar.

“We’re facing a huge financial hit. We’re thinking of selling our car to survive. I don’t know how we’ll make it,” says stipend recipient Batya Hecht, 70, of Kiryat Motzkin. Hecht, formerly a cosmetics salesperson, was let go in June. Since then, she has looked for work, but in vain. “Everyone says I have the skills, but my age is against me. No one cares about people like me who need to continue working.”

“I’m looking for work, but nobody will take me at my age,” echoes Sarah Langlieb, 69, of Nahariya. Langlieb has been working since she was 18, and subsists on a 900 shekel pension and a 2,000 shekel old-age benefit. “They want me to live on that?” she said to Haaretz. “What am I going to do, wait tables? Nobody would take me anyway," she said and added that living in Nahariya makes things harder because most jobs are in the Center. "I want to live with dignity. I think they should extend the stipend at least till the year ends.”

The National Insurance Institute proposed several options ahead of the stipend’s expiration. One was to give unemployed seniors professional training paid for by the state, and meanwhile provide them with a stipend that would cover living expenses. Another is to set a maximum of employment days at those ages, so as to shorten the senior's work week and adjust it to their physical capacity.

But according to the agency's director, Meir Shpigler, the government has stalled on implementing any of the suggestions it received.

The Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry says it tried to promote extending the stipend with the treasury, but a ministry source claimed the treasury refused to continue providing it.

Sarah Langlieb at her home in Nahariya, this week.Credit: rami shllush

A treasury official told Haaretz that according to estimates made in April, a third of recipients received as much or more than what they earned, and are therefore unwilling to return to work. Another third, used their dismissal to willingly retire from work due to their age.

Not so for Chen Inbar, 70, who was laid off from a cleaning job upon the first lockdown and is unable to find work since. “Those 4,000 shekels saved me. If not for them, I’d be in awful shape,” she says.

Despite moving to two different cities in search of work, nobody will hire Inbar, “not even for nursing care. The Employment Service won’t even talk to me. They say once you’ve retired we won’t help. The state is making me homeless. A trash digger.”

Attorney Tali Nir, Director of the 121 NGO, which operates the Center for Employment Promotion, an umbrella organization of several dozen civil rights groups, told Haaretz that “there is no proactive government plan aimed at helping people to find work in the third age”.

Nir argues that “this group of unemployed people should have received a special focus. The most basic thing required here is to proactively and personally reach out to each and every one, as well as to offer financial incentives for employers hiring workers at this age". According to her, none of this was done. "Someone fell asleep at the wheel,” she said.

Nir and her NGO sent a letter this week to the finance, economy, labor, and social equality ministers containing those suggestions, together with other suggestions such as providing assistance with writing resumes and preparing for interviews, creating designated positions for these ages in the public service, and also extending the adjustment stipend as a stop-gap measure until this plan is implemented.

According to Michael Dvoretzky, Deputy Director of the Ministry for Social Equality "there is a problem of ageism among employers and professional training wasn't geared at senior citizens, but we are trying to make a fundamental change."

The ministry has already begun working with new placement companies to be compensated according to the quality of their placement of senior workers. The criteria for measuring the quality include salary and length of employment at positions found through them. "Some positive signs are already showing," says Dvoretzky, with August seeing 250 workers over 60 placed with employers. “It’s a small number, but the pace in the past quarter has been higher compared to last year."

Either way, as of today, without a solution for these people, they may find themselves with no income save a meager old age stipend which could result in being doomed to poverty and distress.

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