If a poll asked “Are you afraid of walking the streets of Israeli cities?” and 43% of the public answered positively, then immediately upon release of the findings, the minister of public security and police chief would rush to react and announce an emergency plan for enhancing citizens' personal security.
It is rather in doubt, however, whether a similar reaction may be expected on the part of the prime minister, the minister of welfare and social affairs or the minister of industry, trade and labor upon the publication today [Nov. 5] of the findings of the Maariv poll, conducted Nov. 1, among 491 respondents, with a sampling error of 4.5 percentage points, from which it emerges that close to half of those canvassed are worried about falling into poverty; one may wonder indeed whether the government ministers in charge have lost any sleep over the matter or whether they will find time enough in their tight schedule ahead of the upcoming [parliamentary] election to attend to the issue.
The findings of the Maariv poll should alarm all the decision makers in the State of Israel, above all those in charge of the state budget and the government’s socio-economic policy.
The situation as reflected in the findings of the poll is nothing new. A similar picture is depicted by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) figures and the OECD reports, and the ever-growing number of appeals to food distribution organizations and various philanthropic and social aid associations points to the same gloomy reality. A report by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics published just two weeks ago [Oct. 17] states that about a third [31%] of Israel’s population were at risk of poverty in 2010, as against 30% in 2009 and 27% in the year 2000. According to the CBS data, the risk of poverty in Israel is even higher than the risk of poverty in countries like Greece and Spain, where [notwithstanding their precarious economic situation] only [about] 20% of the population were at risk of poverty.
These most disturbing data are mirrored in the actual situation on the ground. Because of the escalating unemployment rate and the rising cost of living, more and more families in Israel find it difficult to meet mortgage payments, as emerging from a report published a couple of months ago by YEDID ["friend" in Hebrew] — The Association for Community Empowerment. Social aid associations dealing with food distribution to the needy – those same associations whose activity outgoing Minister of Welfare and Social Affairs Moshe Kahlon has been lashing out against from every possible podium, without offering, however, any viable alternative – have been reporting in recent years a constantly growing number of applicants for aid.
Over and above the distressing figures concerning the ever-growing number of aid seekers applying to social welfare associations, there is another upsetting finding, regarding the makeup of the needy populations, which has changed to include population segments that previously managed on their own — young couples that can no longer meet due payments, recently dismissed employees and others. The mounting number of applicants for social aid has become the talk of the day in the social welfare associations and the related umbrella organizations.
Two weeks ago, in the course of a conference organized by the Leket Israel food charity, heads of social welfare associations recounted the difficulties they were encountering in responding to the ever-growing demand on the part of the public.
The [Israeli] finance minister and prime minister keep citing statistics that purportedly indicate that Israel has been doing extraordinarily well economically; however, the ground is burning. An increasing number of Israeli citizens cannot meet their payments and find themselves at a loss in face of the recurrent waves of dismissals. One of the guests at the Leket Israel conference was Craig Nimitz, who is touring the Middle East on behalf of the Global Food Network and meeting with national food bank operators in the region. According to Nimitz, contrary to claims made in Israel and elsewhere far and wide that the incidence and depth of food and nutritional insecurity is on the decline throughout the world, the Global Food Network representatives in various countries around the globe are witness to an utterly different reality, where a growing number of persons appeal to aid associations. The situation is so bad, Nimitz was telling the conference, that often people had to delay or altogether give up vital everyday expenditures such as car repairs to be able to feed their family. The figure cited at the beginning of this article — vividly portraying what’s really happening on the ground — should thus be seriously reconsidered: Far away from the finance ministry’s statistics, 43.1% of the respondents canvassed in the Maariv poll are worried about falling into poverty!