Poverty Can Wait

The 2015 state budget shows: The government is ignoring the recommendations of a ministerial poverty panel.

Emil Salman

Only a small part of the recommendations of the ministerial committee charged with combating poverty headed by Eli Alaluf is reflected in the 2015 state budget. Even the clauses that are slated to be implemented will be allocated immeasurably less funds than the sum recommended by the committee.

Last week, Social Affairs Minister Meir Cohen maintained that “jumpstarting” the committee’s report in itself is extremely important. However, members of the committee are far less convinced. Despite the cabinet’s and Cohen’s statements that the report’s implementation has begun, it is difficult to find any signs in next year’s budget of a brave, new and mainly comprehensive policy to deal with the poverty crisis.

At the end of June the Alaluf committee released its recommendations on ways to reduce poverty in Israel to the average OECD rate. The report was published after some seven months of intensive work and at the end of a campaign waged by the prime minister’s men and treasury officials to moderate and diminish its conclusions.

The report concluded that an annual addition of 7-8 billion shekels (including a one-time expense of 3.8 billion shekels) was required to reduce poverty by 50 percent. The treasury, however, marked a mere 1.7 billion shekels to implement the report’s conclusions next year, some of which is to come from already existing budgetary clauses. Since the sum is not allocated in the budget base, there is no certainty it will also be earmarked for fighting poverty in the years after 2015.

From an integrated plan whose recommendations are interrelated and support each other, the treasury chose to apply clauses that are not central. But a patchwork cannot replace policy. This is especially conspicuous in social affairs and public housing, two areas that the committee members thoroughly analyzed. For example, from the recommendation to add some 950 billion shekels to the rental assistance clause, only 40 million shekels remained.

In the past 10-15 years the treasury has systematically reduced funding for these two issues, draining to a bare minimum, if not even further, the state’s obligation to provide basic services for its citizens. The piecemeal application of the committee’s recommendations does not bring tidings of rectifying the situation.

“Applying the recommendations will require political will and forcefulness, compassion and courage,” one chapter of the committee’s report states. None of these preconditions are perceptible in the way the recommendations are to be implemented.

When the report was released less than four months ago, officials in the Social Affairs Ministry claimed they had succeeded in including the poverty crisis in the public agenda. Today it appears that dealing with the crisis and attempting to solve it have not yet begun.