The Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel published a report last week saying that in 2021, the State of Israel worked to increase social benefits for its senior citizens and people with disabilities, but did not pursue any major economic policies to address the growing poverty and inequality in the country.
“The lack of a comprehensive policy to tackle poverty and inequality, and even a setback in ensuring the well-being of families with children, is very noticeable,and may lead to an increase in the incidence of poverty, inequality and distress among marginalized groups in Israeli society,” the report’s researchers wrote.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, social expenditures (under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu) actually increased by about 55 billion shekels ($17.68 million). Almost 70% of that increase was earmarked for expanding welfare programs. Most of the expenditures took the form of unemployment benefits and the stimulus package, in which every Israeli citizen over 18 received 700 shekels ($225).
Welfare states around the world have invested four times as much in welfare than Israel
According to researchers at the Taub Center, the current government's policy could worsen the situation of Israelis living in poverty. On the one hand, the government is continuing measures that began before the pandemic, such as implementing the agreement with disability organizations to raise funding, and raising income supplement benefits for senior citizens who have no additional sources of income.
On the other hand, the planned policy for families with children may actually worsen their situation and increase the number of poor people in Israel. Tougher eligibility conditions in the unemployment benefit plan and the lack of treatment of the technical limitations of guaranteed income guarantee will increase poverty.
A comparison between Israel and the advanced welfare states reveals that the scope of expenditure of the Israeli welfare system is relatively low. In Israel, the expenditure on welfare services in 2017 was 2% of their GDP (similar to Spain, Italy and America), while in Denmark and Sweden, the expenditure was 9% of their GDP.
Universal stipends see high utilization rates
The authors of the report state that people from the marginalized and vulnerable populations in Israel have difficulty in utilizing their rights to obtain government benefits. They mention how it is difficult for those entitled to benefits to receive the financial assistance they deserve because of complicated and exhausting bureaucratic processes within the welfare system.
Stipends for children and for senior citizens stand at a high utilization of 99%, because these are universal stipends that are easy to receive. In contrast, the disability stipend stands at an utilization of 75-79%, work benefits at an extraction of 70%, guaranteed income at an extraction of 48-63% and unemployment benefits at 32-40%.
A large proportion of the populations in need of benefits are unable to utilize their entitlement to assistance. Non-utilization is usually due to lack of knowledge or avoidance of dealing with bureaucracy. However, factors related to the structure of the programs such as income tests, complex eligibility conditions, barriers to accessibility and bureaucracy, influence the reality, leaving many Israelis behind. The National Insurance Institute and civic bodies have taken steps to increase the exercising of their rights, but it is still difficult to assess their contribution.
The conclusions from the Elalouf Committee for the War on Poverty have not been implemented
The State adopted the recommendations of the Elalouf Committee for the War on Poverty in 2014, but they have yet to be implemented. As of 2020, there has been no progress in the areas of housing, employment and the economy. In fact, there has even been a reduction in investment.
In the areas of welfare and social security, investment has remained similar over the years, amounting to about a third of the increase recommended by the committee. The recommendation to increase the income support allowance for people of working age living in poverty has also not been implemented.
This article was translated from Hebrew by Zak Newbart.