Nobody Seems to Care

After the euphoria of Israel's entry into the OECD, the Central Bureau of Statistics report brings us back to reality.

The Central Bureau of Statistics released a comparative study on poverty in Israel relative to the 27 member-states of the European Union. After the euphoria which followed Jerusalem's entry into the OECD, the report brings us back to reality.

Soon we will see even more painful statistics after the OECD publishes its annual figures gauging its 34 member-states. In all likelihood, Israel will find itself at the bottom of the rankings in categories such as health, welfare, education and poverty.

The CBS data released yesterday should shock every Israeli. Just under one-third of the country (29 percent ) is in danger of falling below the poverty line, while 16 percent of the population in Europe is liable to do the same.

Meanwhile, 38 percent of children in Israel are at risk of living in poverty, while the number in Europe - including Greece, Portugal, and Lithuania - is 19 percent.

Just over one-fifth (21 percent ) of Israelis said they were forced to cut back on food due to financial difficulties.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer said the country has weathered the economic crisis better than most developed countries.

But they apparently forgot to actually look at what is unfolding in their own backyards, seemingly because what they see there is not always dazzling or appealing to the soul, to say the least.

The financial state of at least half of the population in Israel remains quite poor. Everyone knows the number of students per classroom in Israel is higher than the accepted average. This is because teacher wages are among the lowest in the world, while the health system in Israel's outlying regions is wretched. All the while, the socioeconomic gaps that separate the haves and have-nots continue to grow.

A few months ago, Steinitz vowed that the renewed economic growth that lifted Israel out of the economic crisis would also benefit the poorer sectors of the population, unlike the growth that was seen between 2004 and 2008.

In practice, promises are one thing, but reality is another. The income tax and corporate tax reforms which will only improve the lot of the top wage earners will take effect between 2011 and 2016.

The reduction of value-added tax to 16 percent, which was supposed to be implemented on January 1, 2011 and which was designed to help the low-income earners, has been put off indefinitely.

The price of basic foodstuffs, a vital issue for the poor, continues to climb. Bread and water are becoming more expensive.

Let us not even speak of the prices in real estate: Apartments have now become commodities exclusively for the rich.

It is just as unfortunate that the latest two-year budget does not provide much in the way of welfare. On the contrary, the price of child care is increasing, as are health costs and education fees.

True socioeconomic issues have long ceased to interest the current government. Has anyone heard Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog speak in recent months?