Recovering Israel: Trading Health Crisis for Economic Malaise
Thursday, 18 June 2020
Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.
Without question, the world is a different place than before March 2020—when most countries around the globe began their social distancing, quarantines, shutdowns, and other measures designed to ‘flatten the curve’ of the Coronavirus pandemic.
And with some of the restrictions beginning to relax in Israel, it’s tempting to breathe a sigh of relief and assume that everything is back as it should be. But as you may recall, the economy in Israel—particularly as it worked for the poor—has been under serious strain.
Resumption of daily life is happening, and will continue to happen—but the effects of job loss and unemployment, the rising welfare rolls, and other important economic indicators will take serious time and attention before a full recovery can be made. Health-wise, we may be out of the woods, but economically—Israel is very much on the ropes.
Health Recovery in Progress, Economic Recovery in Doubt
In the midst of the State of Israel’s reopening plan, a new survey finds that 40% of Israelis are having trouble paying for basic expenses as requests made to the Ministry of Welfare have increased by 50%.
The survey, conducted by the IFCJ and the Geocartography Institute, paints an alarming picture of the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis. The survey was conducted among 600 Jewish and Arab respondents and serves as a representative sample of the population in Israel.
“The survey results serve to underscore what most experts already suspected: Even though the medical emergency for the majority of the Israeli people is winding down, the economic and social impact caused by the COVID-19 crisis has been devastating” Yael Eckstein, President and CEO of the IFCJ said.
- One-quarter of survey participants (24.7%) were put on unpaid leave or dismissed from their jobs, and among 14.1% of the couples, both members of the couple lost their income.
- About 40% of participants are facing difficulties in paying for basic expenditures. One out of ten Israelis (9.6%) is having trouble buying food. One-tenth of Israelis (9.3%) reported difficulty paying their mortgage or rent and 8.6% have trouble paying bills such as electricity, water, gas, and municipal taxes.
- A tenth of the survey participants is in danger of being evicted from their homes or having their electricity or water turned off.
Meanwhile, 42.6% of the survey participants cannot depend on their family members or friends for economic help, with about 13% already getting, or planning to request, assistance in the near future from non-profits or social service departments. (INN / VFI)
Health and Welfare Ministries to Cut Budgets
Israel’s new government was asked to approve a 1.5% budget cut, intended to fund the addition of new ministries, and the ministers and deputy ministers who will serve in them. It plans to distribute the cuts evenly across all ministries.
Among them, the Welfare Ministry is expected to lose 3.6 million shekels from its budget, as well as 15 employees. There will also be cuts to the budgets of the National Insurance Institute, and the Israeli Employment Service, which are on the front lines helping Israelis recover financially from the coronavirus lockdown. The Health Ministry will lose 4.3 million shekels from its budget, along with 23 employees.
The funds cut from the ministries' budgets will be used for the new ministries, as well as to open a Housing Headquarters in the Construction and Housing Ministry and a Planning Headquarters in the Interior Ministry. Each of these headquarters will have conditions similar to that of the Finance Ministry's Housing Headquarters. (INN / VFI)
Israel’s Welfare Services ‘On the Brink of Collapse'
Social Workers' Union Chairwoman Inbal Hermoni sent a warning letter to Finance Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) and Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli (Labor), warning them that social services are on the brink of collapse due to the coronavirus crisis, and the expected budget cuts.
"The State of Israel is in the midst of a social services crisis," she wrote. "This can be seen by the overload in the number of families being managed by each social worker (between 100-400 families per social worker), by the acute lack of workers, with 1,000 social worker positions waiting to be filled, by the lack of resources and response in the community, the closure of frameworks providing services, the lack of response to tenders which the Welfare Ministry puts out to outsource services, and more."
"The coronavirus crisis brought with it a rise in the number of unemployed, as well as a rise in the emotional stress for the entire population, a deterioration in the mental state of populations which suffer emotional and functional problems during normal times, a rise in problems in parental functioning, in the violence...in family units, a rise in the number of people addicted to dangerous substances, and in general a dramatic rise in the number of families who require aid from social services and an increase in the needs of families which were already receiving social services before the crisis.
"During this period, we are again witnessing how crucial social work and social services are to maintaining the fabric and strength of society and handling the national challenges facing the State of Israel. We were therefore horrified to hear that cuts are expected to the number of positions and the resources of the Welfare Ministry at this time! At this time the response and the aid budgets should be expanded in order to allow Israeli society to cope during this difficult time, and certainly, there should not be cuts that will come at the expense of the residents of the entire State of Israel, especially at the expense of the weaker populations which require aid now, more than ever.
"It is my obligation to warn the State of Israel regarding the threat that social services will collapse, which will have serious consequences and almost certainly also cause a loss of life," she concluded. (INN / VFI)
Our Role in Supporting Those in Need
COVID-19 has disproportionately affected those who live in poverty—particularly Israel’s growing immigrant community. With job discontinuation/reduction, lack of family support, and communication difficulties all piling on, many risk an already-dire health situation becoming an issue of food and housing insecurity.
Recently, we at Vision for Israel went to distribute clothing and dry food packages for immigrant families—forced to live in crowded conditions (especially dangerous during a pandemic), many of them suffered from serious health problems as well.
Founders Batya and Barry Segal went along to help, and to meet some of the families and got to know them personally. They met a lovely family of 6, with a girl suffering from Asthma. The father works at a retail store and is the sole financial provider for the family.
Before COVID-19, he only earned the equivalent of $2100 USD per month—and since then, cuts to his work have reduced that even more.
They also met the single mother of a 4-year-old girl, who had made Aliyah from Ethiopia in 1987. Due to postpartum depression, she has been on a steady regime of medication and therapy to this day. Since the father is not an Israeli citizen, she isn’t entitled to receive alimony from Social Security in Israel—and due to a car accident she was in about three years ago, she suffers from occasional loss of consciousness. This severely impacts her ability to work and provide for her small family.
The poverty in Israel was terrible prior to the crisis, and it has only become worse since—and with the announced cuts to welfare programmes, and the continuing economic crisis—it’s become clear that non-profits and other NGOs will have to pick up where the government can’t.
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