The Finance Ministry is opposing a further increase in the allowance that it provides to 70,000 senior citizens with disabilities, the High Court of Justice was informed in advance of a hearing on the issue on Thursday. After the first of a number of increases in disability benefits, disabled senior citizens now receive 235 shekels ($65) a month while younger disabled recipients get 470 shekels per month .
In response to the petition filed by the Ken Lazaken senior citizens’ rights group and the Center for the Blind in Israel, the ministry stated that raising the monthly stipend for disabled seniors would render current plans for increases in disability payments untenable. If the High Court were to order parity for senior disability recipients and their younger counterparts, it would require scrapping the entire plan to increase disability allowances, the ministry stated in a court filing. The result would be “a worsening in the situation of hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities who will no longer receive an increase of thousands of shekels,” the ministry said.
The Finance Ministry also took exception to the petitioners’ argument that the law improperly discriminates against disabled people above the age of retirement, compared to disabled people who have not yet reached retirement age. In its own response, the Knesset also rejected the petitioners’ stance and said the plan at issue provided an increase to senior citizens who would have received no increase at all in its absence.
For their part, Ken Lazaken and the Center for the Blind stated in their petition that no one would argue that elderly disabled Israelis have fewer needs than their younger counterparts. “The opposite is true, “ the petition states. “This involves impermissible discrimination that has no justification.”
The petition claims that the differential treatment of the two groups is the result of “inherent ageism in government institutions’ outlook,” adding that ageism is “the most accepted [form of] discrimination among decision makers.” The petition called for an explicit ruling that ageism is impermissible by law in Israel.
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Advocacy organizations for the disabled came to an agreement in 2017 with the Histadrut labor federation and the government and the Knesset that provided for the gradual increase of disability allowances to 4,000 shekels per month but it did not include full benefits for elderly disabled recipients. The organizations and Labor Minister Haim Katz sought to include the elderly in an across-the-board plan of increases but the Finance Ministry only agreed to have elderly disabled receive half the increase. Including the elderly in the increase at all came at the expense of a portion of the increase to non-elderly disabled, which is now only to rise to 3,700 shekels per month.
The differential treatment of the elderly originally stemmed from the law governing the National Insurance Institute, which barred recipients from receiving more than one kind of National Insurance benefit, meaning that recipients couldn’t receive old-age benefits and disability benefits. Several years ago, the law was changed so that elderly recipients whose old-age benefits were less than their disability benefits would be able to receive both.
In 2009, the High Court of Justice ruled that the state could not discriminate against the elderly disabled, but the court gave the state time to gradually rectify the situation. Now the state is taking the position that providing elderly disabled recipients with half of the benefit to non-elderly disabled would be sufficient to comply with the High Court’s 2009 ruling.