People With Psychiatric Problems in Israel to Be Eligible for Welfare Help

In May, Haaretz revealed that welfare departments were refusing to deal with people with psychiatric problems who needed services and were instead referring them to the Health Ministry

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Food packages to be delivered to needy families are prepared in Ofakim, Israel, 2015
Food packages to be delivered to needy families are prepared in Ofakim, Israel, 2015Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The Social Affairs Ministry has voided a regulation from the 1970s that prevented people with psychological problems from getting welfare services, following a Haaretz report on the practice. The ministry is now rewriting the regulation.

In May, Haaretz revealed that welfare departments were refusing to deal with people with psychiatric problems who needed services and were instead referring them to the Health Ministry on grounds that the latter was responsible for them. However, the Health Ministry provides very specific services, only some of which could be classified as social services; for example, the Health Ministry can’t arrange for food assistance or subsidized day care. Nevertheless, the psychologically challenged would be automatically shunted to the Health Ministry without an assessment of their specific needs.

This practice was based on Clause 1.9 of the Social Work Regulations, which was written in 1973, and which states, “A mentally challenged person who is being treated at a mental health center or who was recently released from [psychiatric] hospitalization cannot come on his own volition to a social services bureau.”

At the time, the Social Affairs Ministry told Haaretz that applicants are entitled to a basket of Health Ministry services that includes housing and employment assistance. However, only someone who has been designated at least 40 percent disabled because of their psychological problems can get this basket, which involves a lengthy application procedure. Moreover, there are many services only a welfare department can provide, including ongoing or emergency financial assistance; help in utilizing one’s rights, intervention with the authorities, parenting classes and therapy for children.

After the Haaretz report appeared, numerous organizations active in the realm of mental health, along with the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, met with Social Affairs Ministry director-general Avigdor Kaplan and demanded that he order local welfare departments to provide full service to people with psychological problems. Recently the ministry informed their representatives that it was cancelling the regulation that prevented such services and would write new regulations.

The voluntary organizations are demanding that the new Social Work Regulation stress that all welfare departments must provide services to such clients.

“This is an important step toward assuring equality and improving the status of those coping with mental illness and we are grateful for it,” the organizations wrote in a joint letter. “Now that the Social Work Regulation has been cancelled, we are asking that an order go out to the bureaus to provide services to those with mental health challenges and their families, the same way they are provided to the general public, in accordance with the eligibility that applies to the public. In addition, as the ones leading the struggles in the area of mental health for decades, and who are accompanying this population both in the realm of services and in the realm of advancing policy, we seek to make our voices heard in the framework of the rethinking taking place in the Social Affairs Ministry to regulate the provision of services to those coping and their families.”

Attorney Maskit Bendel of ACRI welcomed the ministry’s decision but said the problem isn’t over yet. “While the Social Affairs Ministry accepted our arguments and announced that it was cancelling the regulation, it hasn’t made an alternative arrangement nor is there a timetable [for one],” she said. “We call on the social services minister to immediately announce that all [welfare] bureaus accept every person who applies to them, without discrimination.”

The Social Affairs Ministry commented: “Social Work Regulations Clause 1.9 has been canceled and we are working on a regulation that will replace it. When the regulation is formulated it will be publicized.”

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