Israel's 2020 Poverty Report Won’t Be Published Until After Election

This year’s edition, like previous ones, would have shown that government spends far less than other advanced countries to alleviate poverty, author says

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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A homeless man near the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv, October 2020.
A homeless man near the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv, October 2020.Credit: Eyal Toueg
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

For the first time in 20 years, the official National Insurance Institute poverty report won’t be published in 2020 but be postponed by at least half a year, according to Director General Meir Spiegler. The report was supposed to present the data on poverty and inequality in Israel for 2019, and the government investment in preventing poverty and inequality, compared to other countries.

Like the reports on the preparedness of the health care system prior to the pandemic, the public was supposed to receive data about investment in the social safety net before a serious socioeconomic crisis. According to an NII source, “Clearly this report wouldn’t flatter the government and would show that we’ve reached this difficult situation with COVID with a porous social security system, and allowances and investment that are too low by any criterion.”

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Spiegler said that the report on 2019 won’t be published because the NII won’t receive the necessary data from the Central Bureau of Statistics. The report will be ready only in mid-2021. The NII will issue a smaller report with figures relating to 2020, “a kind of alternative report, not the poverty report.” The CBS explained that methodological and technological changes and a new processing system led to the delay.

The NII report on poverty and social gaps has been published annually since the 1980s. In the past 20 years it has been published in November or December and contained the previous year’s data. On rare occasions it is published in January. The report measures the scope of poverty and inequality and compares the Israeli figures with other countries, and reviews the government’s handling of the problem.

For years the report has been critical of the government, highlighting that it invests significantly less on social expenditures than other countries, that NII allowances are too low and that multi-generational poverty rates are high.

Prof. Daniel Gottlieb, former deputy director of research and planning at NII and author of the annual poverty report from 2007 until his resignation last month, said that the report could have been issued even without the CBS data: “A report could have been published this year too had they wanted to, even without the CBS. From the moment I arrived at the NII, I headed a project to calculate poverty according to our own internal data and not based on the CBS data. A report can be issued independently based on these data.”

Gottlieb always made sure to conclude work on the report quickly and by year’s end, “to enable the government to discuss steps to reduce poverty and its social policy as soon as possible. Regrettably there were almost no such discussions, but we provided the data to the public. Publishing the report is particularly important this year because many people personally experienced poverty, a sharp change and a deterioration and decline in income.

“This year’s report should have provided the situation assessment for 2019, showing how Israel entered the coronavirus crisis in terms of investment in welfare and the situation of the poor, and would probably have demonstrated that Israel should have invested another 55 billion shekels ($17 billion) a year on social expenditures (welfare, health, NII allowances and so on) in order to reach the pre-pandemic average investment of the OECD countries on these issues.

“This report should have been a spur for government policy on poverty, and anyone reading it would understand that before COVID-19 the government didn’t invest enough in preventing poverty, that’s what we present in every report. The poverty situation has been very grave in Israel for many years.”

A soup kitchen in the southern Israeli city of Beer Sheva, November 2020.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The CBS response: “In the past two years the survey of household expenditures, whose findings are the basis for the NII poverty report, has undergone many technological and methodological changes, designed to make it easier for participants to answer the survey, and to shorten the timetable for processing and publishing it.

“Despite great efforts by the CBS, along with special activities required of it because of the pandemic – the development of the new system has not been completed, which is why the data will be ready by the first half of 2021. This is a one-time activity, and the CBS will make every effort to overcome the gap so that in future the data will be available about half a year after the end of the survey year.”