The coronavirus pandemic has triggered a spike in the amount of people who are poor, which reached two million in 2020. But another reason for the alarming figures has been attributed to the lack of a solid policy, as well as unwillingness of the government to acknowledge the problem.
COVID-19, which has already claimed the lives of nearly 6,000 Israelis, has also led to the closing down of tens of thousands of small and medium-sized businesses, and it has also pushed the unemployment rates to unprecedented heights.
Poverty Rate Goes Up
But Israel’s woes don’t end there. At the end of January, it was reported that the Jewish state’s standard of living had dropped by 4.4 percent and that the number of poor was nearing two million people.
Naama Yardeni, the head of research at Latet, Israel’s largest NGO combating poverty and food insecurity, breaks down these numbers.
“We need to distinguish between families that experience financial hardships and those that are poor. In both cases, we have seen a rise in numbers, when compared before and after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic”.
According to Latet’s numbers, before 2020, Israel registered 24.1 percent who were facing financial hardships. 20.1 percent were considered poor. By the beginning of 2021, these figures had been pushed up, reaching 38.6 and 29 percent respectively.
Yardeni says that the practical meaning of this is that many Israeli families find it hard to cater to their basic needs, including putting food on the table, buying medicine, paying bills and loans and purchasing school books and equipment.
Many have been relying on the external assistance of NGOs to keep themselves and their families afloat.
Government Not Assisting Enough?
Although these numbers are alarming for a country that has only nine million people, Yardeni says Israel’s situation is much stronger compared to other OECD countries when it comes to the amount of those in need. Yet, as far as the government’s assistance is concerned, the Jewish state falls far behind.
A 2020 OECD report suggested that in Israel, many spend more than 25 percent of their income on paying for rent and loans, whereas an earlier paper revealed that nearly 80 percent of Israelis thought they could not access public benefits easily if they needed them.
The reason for this, believes Yardeni, is Israel’s inefficient apparatus of distributing funds and the state bureaucracy that makes the process of giving out assistance even more complicated.
“It is not that Israel doesn’t help its people in need. It does. But it lacks one body that’s responsible for handling the problem. Instead, this task is split between different governmental bodies and the result is that a family that needs assistance will need to go through hell to obtain some help”.
Another problem is that Israel doesn’t have a solid policy, nor a plan, that aims at tackling poverty and bringing its numbers down.
In 2013, a number of prominent Israeli researchers and economists produced a paper detailing suggestions and steps Israel could take in order to bring its poverty rates down.
These included suggestions to integrate the Ultra-Orthodox community into Israel’s labour force, the introduction of a negative income tax, and an improvement in the enforcement of labour laws. Many of those proposals have remained just that, untouched by the government.
“There is no threshold that we would like to reach. Nobody acknowledges that Israel has this problem that should be tackled. This country has enough resources but if they are not distributed evenly, this issue is not going to evaporate in the nearest future”.