Israel Mulls Rise in Disability Benefits as Minimum Wage Grows Much Faster

The disability allowance has only risen 8 percent since 2003, compared with 30 percent for the minimum wage

Disabled people demonstrating in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square, April 2017.
Tomer Appelbaum

A committee tasked with studying disability allowances plans to recommend that annual spending on these benefits increase by billions of shekels.

“Israel has abandoned the disabled for 15 years,” the committee’s chairman, Prof. Yaron Zelekha, said Wednesday.

The panel presented its preliminary recommendations Wednesday to Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. The latter established the panel in January.

Zelekha, once the treasury’s accountant general, told Haaretz the panel would recommend a substantial increase, though it still hadn’t settled on a final figure. It is also likely to recommend major changes in the law to reduce disincentives for the disabled to work.

“The allowance won’t rise to the level of the minimum wage, since that would require 15 billion shekels [$4.1 billion]. But it’s an increase that will bring about a real revolution for the disabled. The finance minister instructed us to provide a budget ‘verging on irresponsibility,’ in his words,” Zelekha said.

“Israel has abandoned the disabled for 15 years, and now we’re trying to correct years of damage. “There’s no doubt the disability allowance has eroded in comparison with Israel’s economic benchmarks, and even before then it wasn’t in a situation one could be proud of.”

Since 2003, the minimum wage has risen more than 30 percent. But the disability allowance has risen only 8 percent to 2,342 shekels a month.

One issue the committee hasn’t decided on yet is whether the allowance should increase automatically each year to prevent further erosion.

The panel also wants to change the law so that disabled people can work without losing a significant chunk of their benefits. “Today the disabled still have negative incentives to work,” Zelekha said. “We’re considering how we can reduce them.”

But advocates for the disabled voiced disappointment with the decision not to raise the allowance to the level of the minimum wage. “The personal distress of the disabled has risen from day to day and we’ve reached the disgrace of hunger,” said David Mizrahi, an advocate who has two disabled parents.