Israel needs to invest money in order to lower the poverty rate – one of the highest in OECD countries – according to a report issued Monday by a Knesset-appointed panel that investigated the matter. Among the recommendations by the panel headed by poverty expert Eli Alaluf – raising the minimum wage, increasing subsidies for public housing, and raising the amount given by the state in transfer payments.
The report is the first in-depth one in the country’s history to analyze government policy on poverty issues. The committee was appointed last year by MKs to analyze why Israel registers with such a high level of poverty among other OECD countries.
Housing is one of the chief issues that the government needs to deal with, the panel said. Because of a lack of affordable housing, the report said, poor Israelis are forced to rent apartments in peripheral areas where there are no jobs, because apartments closer to places of employment are too expensive. In order to get to the jobs they need to spend a great deal on public transportation. The report advises the government to pump NIS 450 million a year ($13 million) in developing new public housing.
The report found that the government had a number of programs poor Israelis could take advantage of to improve their lot, but that the programs were underutilized – because people did not know they existed, or were unable to determine if they were eligible. Cutting down on bureaucracy and streamlining application processes would help ensure more people were able to take advantage of programs, the report said.
In addition, the report recommended increasing government payments to poor families and the elderly. Stipends paid by the National Insurance Institute to retirees, for example, should be increased by at least NIS 400 immediately, the report said. In addition, the government should fund new jobs programs and allied services, such as establishing new day care centers so women with young children will have the opportunity to find work.
At a press conference Monday, Alaluf said “Israeli society and government institutions tend to ignore the poor, and evade their responsibility to help them. Those caught in the trap of poverty are mostly there through no fault of their own. Many are depressed and see no way out. It is our responsibility to help them.”