Israel’s Government Is Ignoring the Time Bomb of Poverty

Despite the increase in employment, poverty rates have gone up, even in families with two breadwinners.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz

In recent years, successive governments have taken pride in being “the most social-minded.” The poverty report that came out Wednesday stresses once again how cut off the politicians’ statements are from reality.

After all, 1.7 million poor people, 770,000 of them children, are not a “mistake” – not when the data and their significance have long been known to anyone who took an interest. The figures in the National Insurance Institute report show that the government isn’t really interested in treating the poverty problem.

Despite the increase in employment, poverty rates have gone up, even in families with two breadwinners. This shows that employment is not the be-all and end-all, despite finance ministers’ promises over the years. The data show that even a full-time job is not a guarantee against poverty.

The poverty rate among households with two breadwinners reached 5.6 percent this year, continuing the rise of the past decade. This happens partly in the public sector because of the use of human resource companies, yet only a few people, most of them outside government, call for restrictions on this type of employment.

According to another key find in the report, last year the poor became poorer and their average income came in at about 35 percent below the poverty line. The situation of the poorest of the poor also got worse.

But the rich got richer; the disposable income of the top 20 percent climbed 5.3 percent, compared with 2.6 percent for the middle class and 0.4 percent for the bottom 20 percent.

In the summer of 2014 the Committee to Fight Poverty, headed by current Kulanu MK Eli Alalouf, released a report. To this day the report has not been discussed by the cabinet and most of its recommendations have not been implemented.

In fact, from the promises inherent in the committee’s name, only the word “poverty” is left. Today only Mexico has a worse poverty rate than Israel among OECD countries, and its lead is marginal. Based on the government’s failures, it won’t be long before we take first place.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who blamed the previous government for the situation, hangs his hopes on the restoration of child allowances. He must implement a government program in areas such as education, housing and health to tackle the ticking time bomb of the poverty problem. Israel’s government must treat this issue with the seriousness it deserves.