Poverty to be focus of new Knesset caucus

RUTH EGLASH
JPost

Activists confident the new forum will facilitate social change for Israelis living below the poverty line.

By Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post

A new parliamentary caucus aimed at putting the issue of poverty back on the national agenda and pressuring the government to create an all-encompassing plan to reduce the problem will be established on Tuesday as the Knesset marks the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

Despite the fact the international day was observed worldwide in October and Knesset scheduling issues have meant it is only being officially discussed now, activists are confident the new forum will help to finally create social change for thousands of Israelis living below the poverty line.

Four MKs – Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi), Shlomo Molla (Kadima), Muhammad Barakei (Hadash) and Daniel Ben-Simon (Labor) – will head the Caucus for the Fight Against Poverty, which will not only demand a national plan to reduce poverty but will also ask for better measuring tools to assess existing and future policies aimed at helping the poor.

“This could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” Orlev told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. “We must continue putting pressure on the government to create this national plan and constantly bring new ideas so that one day it will become a reality.”

He said that in the same way the government builds its monetary budget, it should also create a program that will show exactly how it can and has reduced poverty among children and the elderly, as well as minimizing the socioeconomic gaps between rich and poor. He said all areas — health, welfare, education and labor — needed to be looked at too.

“Poverty in Israel has become a chronic illness and society is becoming entrenched deeper and deeper in this problem,” explained the MK. He said that according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Israel has among the highest percentages of poor people in the developed world.

According to the latest figures released in November by the National Insurance Institute, 433,300 families, or 19.8 percent of the population live below the poverty line. The line is defined at half the median income.

“Every third child, every fourth adult and every fifth family lives in poverty in Israel,” said Orlev. “Poverty is not a person’s destiny, it is the result of government policies.”

Barbara Epstein, the executive director of Community Advocacy and a member of the Forum for the Reduction of Poverty, said she was optimistic about the new caucus.

“I am hopeful that this time, because we have an interesting constellation of people involved, we will see some change,” she said. “It seems to me that those involved now are very dedicated to this issue and are not doing it just for the publicity.”

The forum, which is now in its third year, is comprised of a broad range of non-government organizations, academics and even representatives of the Jerusalem Municipality.

On Tuesday, it published the results of a specially commissioned telephone survey showing the overwhelming majority of the public (92%) believes the government is not doing enough to improve the economic situation here.

Furthermore, the survey, which used a sample of Israeli Jewish adults, found that 63% believe the government is directly damaging the economy and only 8% said they feel the current economic policy is good for the country.

In addition, 78% said the recommendations made by the Trajtenberg Committee, set up by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to answer the demands of protesters following last summer’s mass social justice demonstrations, do not go far enough to help those who are really struggling with poverty.

More than half of respondents (56%) indicated that over the past year they have been forced to cut back drastically on their spending, especially on food, housing and clothing. This figure shows that despite economic growth, many citizens do not enjoy it, and even more are forced to cut their operating expenses.