MKs livid over poverty report

Left skewers Netanyahu, calls for commission of inquiry over abysmal poverty statistics; solutions focus on incentives for working poor.

Tova Dvorin , | updated: 2:59 PM

A poor man with his bags, Jerusalem (file)
A poor man with his bags, Jerusalem (file)

Opposition leader and Zionist Union chairman Yitzhak Herzog called for a "commission of inquiry" against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, after the annual poverty report revealed that one in every three children in Israel lives below the poverty line. 

"Reports of poverty, unfortunately, do not surprise me," Herzog said. "I was a welfare minister, I have seen many reports, but mostly - I have been around the country and seen the same people, begging for help."

"We like to talk about poverty but really do not like poor people," he added. "I wrote a book on the subject."

"Poverty in Israel is the highest in the West and with good reason," Herzog continued, blaming the government as the prime factor for the phenomenon. "Netanyahu pushed entire classes of citizens into poverty in 2003 and did so again in 2013."

"I cannot hide behind excuses. I hope that next year the results will be much better," Social Welfare Minister MK Haim Katz (Likud) stated at a press conference in the Knesset following the report's publication. He added that "we cannot eradicate poverty" but expressed hope that it will be possible to reduce it.

"We must put people below the poverty line back into workforce and provide incentives - particularly to single mothers," he stressed, noting that single mothers who receive benefits end up paying 60% taxes on that money. "It's unreasonable and we should lower taxes dramatically from 60% to 20%."

"It will cost 150 million shekels ($38.7M - ed.), but we must try it." 

Chairman of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, MK Eli Elalouf (Kulanu) stated that the poverty report "only justifies and proves to us even more the need for intensive and immediate reduction of poverty." 

"The current government and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon have already begun introducing urgent measures for the 2015-16 budget, such as raising the minimum wage, fixing child allowances, raising old age pensions and implementing negative income tax to those eligible. Our aim is to deepen and increase that negative income tax grant to prevent working families from sinking into poverty." 

"It is also important to note that poverty is not only based on money," he added. "Poverty is a complex of many factors. There is a lot to be done regarding education, employment, adding rights and lowering the cost of living."

"The ultimate goal is to reach the average of OECD countries within 10 years, and even less." 

Shas chairman and former Finance Minister Aryeh Deri blamed former Finance Minister Yair Lapid for the poverty report, and claimed that his [Deri's] own actions during the current government have brought down poverty for 2015. 

Among other accomplishments, he claimed to have been active in the drive to raise the minimum wage, raise child allowances, cut VAT on public transport, and provide water and electricity discounts for the lower-class. 

Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich took a more philosophical approach, noting that the poverty figures may be blown out of proportion. 

"There is no doubt a poor person today is much less poor than the poor were 20 years ago," Smotrich opined in an interview with Arutz Sheva. "With the progressive growth in Israel today, it is true the rich are richer than the poor, but the poor are richer than ever before."

"The [socioeconomic] gap was maintained and of course we must take care of it, but we should not beat ourselves up for what we do not deserve. There's nobody here who's dying of hunger and cold in the streets." 

"The poverty line today does not reflect the reality in which a person can live," he added, noting that outrage over the report is "populist." 

Specifically, he said, "the haredi population is less poor today than in the past," and added that data on Arab communities must be combed through for accuracy. 

"Ultimately, we need to address the report but to also take it into perspective and remember that today is better than ever. Today everyone is richer than ever before."