Fighting Poverty from the Top Down

28 October 2015

“It doesn’t make sense that an elderly person living in this country has to choose between medicine and food.”
-MK Orly Levi-Abekasis of Yisrael Biteinu.

“Poverty is not a disease. It is a result of policy. And policy begins at the top.” -MK Haim Yalin of Yesh Atid.

On October 20th, the International Day against Poverty was marked in the Knesset. During a full day of activities, organized by the Shatil and Rabbis for Human Rights-led Forum against Poverty, policy and decision makers committed to action.

Fourteen of the 17 Knesset committees kicked off the day by tackling growing poverty among women, single parents, the elderly, Palestinian Israelis, immigrant communities, and more. Among the operative decisions of the day: MK Eli Alalouf, author of the government’s poverty report and chair of the Knesset Labor and Welfare Committee, committed to tracking the government’s actions on his committee’s recommendations; Welfare Minister Haim Katz announced a new law that would ensure income support to minimum wage earners; NIS 25 million will be added to the budget for education grants for 1st to 12th grades for single parent families; and the chair of the Economics Committee came out against disconnecting the electricity of poor families who have problems paying their bills.

More than one million Israelis live in poverty. According to the OECD, Israel ranks third on the poverty scale among developed nations, with only two countries worse off – Mexico and Chile. For people living in poverty, worries over potential homelessness, having their electricity cut off, putting food on the table, and providing for their children’s basic needs are daily concerns.

Maya Vanunu, invited to share her personal story during the Welfare and Labor Knesset Committee, expressed her frustration. “The allowance I receive from social security does not even come close to getting me through the month. It is not enough to cover my most basic bills.”

Together with NIF grantee Rabbis for Human Rights and the Haifa Partnership for the Eradication of Poverty, Shatil worked tirelessly behind the scenes to organize the event. Shatil’s poverty forum co-coordinator Odeya Shabtai, said that the success of the event was reflected in the large number of activists living in poverty who attended and influenced decision-makers: three hundred and fifty people filled the Knesset’s assembly hall.

“We believe that people living in poverty know best what needs to be done,” said Odeya. They have the knowledge and experience from their own lives. Any action taken by policymakers must be in collaboration with them.”

Among the other activities that took place to commemorate this day, Arab and Jewish children from a bilingual school showed they are united with a common cause when they called on politicians to fight poverty – a poignant move during these days of high tension. Rabbis for Human Rights also published a collection of personal stories from people living in poverty.