In 2000 the basic monthly disability allowance – paid to a person whom the state has determined is too disabled to work – was 2,239 shekels (around $546 in 2000). By 2016, it had risen to 2,342 shekels ($609 in 2016), and it is paid to 190,000 disabled people.
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In those 16 years the disability allowance has been eroded dozens of percentage points when compared to other indices, like the average wage and the housing index. If one of the measures of a society’s strength is its ability to assure at least a minimum dignified existence for all its citizens, then Israel has failed. This abuse of one of society’s weakest groups must stop.
The stubborn struggle being waged in recent months by organizations advocating for the disabled has succeeded in arousing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s preferred response – rejecting the recommendations of one committee and appointing another instead. Delays and missed opportunities have become a way of life for him.
There are plenty of proposals to improve the lot of the disabled. Half a year ago a bill submitted by MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) that would double the disability allowance and link it to the minimum wage was passed in a preliminary vote. The bill has yet to be debated by the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee.
A month ago the recommendations of a committee appointed by the finance minister and chaired by Prof. Yaron Zelicha were submitted. Among its recommendations were to allocate 4.5 billion shekels to increase the disability allowance to 4,000 shekels a month in three stages, starting in 2018. The committee also suggested changes in the way the allowance is calculated to encourage the disabled to seek work; to reduce discrimination between men and women in the criteria for receiving the allowance, to increase the paltry rental assistance, and more.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz both adopted the Zelicha Committee’s recommendations, but Netanyahu decided that a professor of his choosing – Avi Simhon, chairman of the National Economic Council – would once again examine the level of disability allowances. The recommendations emerging would raise the allowance to 3,200 shekels, which would be given only to those with a 75 percent disability level and who are poor and without families. All this is in contrast to the previous committee, which recommended that all disabled people get the same increase. The Simhon Committee has yet to determine how to define “poor,” making it unclear how many disabled people would even get the enhanced allowance.
While Zelicha and Simhon and the politicians behind them continue to bicker, past experience shows that one cannot rely on the government’s promises to increase the allowances. The current allowances sentence the disabled to a life of poverty and express unacceptable national priorities. This 2,342-shekel disgrace must end.