There is a silent tsunami that is washing away the safety net that protects poor people in Israel. With the June 2013 budget cuts in place, 50,000 more children and 20,000 more elderly people will be living below the poverty line. Government subsidies for those who qualify for welfare assistance were slashed by 75%.
Eliyahu escorts children with special needs on their way to and from school. He gets up at the crack of dawn, to make the first shift.
Due to his minimal salary, before the cuts he received a monthly stipend from Bituach Leumie (Social Security in Israel) of 800 shekels ($200). Now, he receives just 150 shekels ($42) a month from the government. The severance paid per child was also cut, leaving him with another 320 shekels ($90) less every month. His discount on personal property taxes was removed, so he now has to pay another 400 shekels ($100) that he didn’t have before either. In total, he lost 1,470 shekels ($412) a month, about 20% of his income.
"How can it be that Israel is ranked by the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development) as the country with the fifth highest level of poverty, next to Mexico?,” asked Aryeh Lurie, the founder of Yad Ezra V'Shulamit, an organization that assists Israel’s poorest population by distributing over 10,000 food baskets every month. "Our phones are ringing constantly. No one can make it anymore. The new budget cuts have literally left people hungry in Israel. We have never seen something like this in the 25 years we have been serving Israel’s families in need."
True, there is a 40 million shekel deficit in the government. But the poor shouldn't have to bear the burden of that.
"They don't scream, but we hear their silent cry. Living modestly does not have to be a bad thing if a person has enough to eat and to live in dignity. But it is a tragedy if people are hungry and go without the basics - especially for children," says Lurie.
And indeed, the children have been hit the hardest. In 2012, the National Council for the Child (NCC) reported that one out of every three of Israel's 900,000 children are being raised in poverty. What's more, studies presented in the 2012 Latet Poverty Report show that:
· 62% of children who receive food aid have no books or any other basic school equipment.
· 27% of children who receive food aid have gone entire days without any food at all.
· 95% of children who receive food aid had to forego necessary services or basic products on a regular basis.
· 63% of poor families were unable to buy medicines they need to maintain their health.
· 10% of children from poor families have resorted to begging for money on the streets.
· 50% of children from struggling families were required to work in order to help maintain the household; and 1 out of 5 of them dropped out of school to join the workforce instead.
It is hard to imagine a situation that is clearly this bad being purposely impaired further.
Childhood is too important to risk. The ripples of poverty, in addition to its cyclical perpetuation for generations, are expressed in weakened immune systems, lack of educational support, social incompetence, limited opportunities for creative development, and a greater chance of personal and societal deterioration through crime.
There is no more valuable treasure than the children of Israel. They are the future. Is it wise to implement budget cuts against those who are the most vulnerable? Because they don't have a voice, they don't protest?
"We can't turn our back on our brothers and ignore the poor," insists Lurie.
Yad Ezra V’Shulamit is an organization that distributes fourteen tons of food every week to needy families and feeds 1000 children a hot daily lunch. "The government might have made cuts to the poor so the people of Israel, each and every one of us has to step up to the plate".
It’s the least we can do.