Social and Economic Rights in Israel 2011

Since 1985, successive Israeli governments have taken a neo-liberal approach to social and economic policy, steadily yet significantly reducing the budgets for social services. The result has been a marked decline both in the quality and quantity of the range of services offered to the Israeli public, with a sharp rise in poverty levels and economic inequality.
In general, the social gaps in Israel fall along ethnic and national lines, a division that heightens existing tensions in society: the weakest fifth of the population is comprised mostly of Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews, with the remainder including a high proportion of elderly people and single-parent families. Relative gaps continue to exist – and in some cases even to widen – between Jews of European and of African/Asian descent, and between new immigrants (who immigrated to Israel from 1990 onwards).
The data presented below illustrates the low-point that Israeli society has reached in terms of realizing social and economic rights for all its citizens:
One in every four residents in Israel lives below the poverty line, more than twice the average of Western countries (the average poverty rate in developed countries is 11.1%). Israel has the second highest poverty rate among OECD countries (OECD data, 2011). The total number of the nation’s impoverished is 1.7 million people. Groups with the highest percentage living below the poverty line are ultra-Orthodox Jews (56.9% of all families) and the Arab population (53.5% of all families.) 36.3% of Israeli children live in poverty (850,300 children). Working families make up 49% of the total population living below the poverty line (National Insurance Institute data, 2009).
Social Gaps
Israel’s level of economic inequality is one of the highest among developed countries. In 2011, Israel was ranked fifth in unequal income distribution among the 34 OECD countries, with the United States ranking fourth and Chile ranking first  (OECD data, 2011). Israel’s level of economic inequality is a remarkable 22% higher than the average in OECD countries (National Insurance Institute data, 2009).
The Education System
The national budget for education is consistently under-funded: over the last decade, 250,000 hours of classroom instruction have been cut, with only 100,000 of those hours returned over the past two years. Israeli expenditure per student in primary school is 36% lower than the average in OECD countries: $5146 per student per year, compared with $8070 in developed countries (OECD data, 2011).
The results are low salaries for teachers, the decline of teaching as a profession, and a significant downturn in student achievements, as measured by the international PISA educational assessments, in which Israeli students are now ranked in the bottom third. The government’s policy has also caused a partial privatization of the education system: parents who have the financial means now pay for their children’s education in private schools or for other private study programs, while other children must make do with a short school day and with mediocre education at best.
Health Care
Since the National Health Insurance Law was enacted in 1994, the basket of medical services provided to Israeli citizens has steadily deteriorated, since there is no mechanism in place for regular updates of the basket. Today, Israel is ranked 25th among OECD countries, with a national health expenditure of 7.8% of the GDP – 4.4% of that in public expenditure and 3.4% in private expenditure. The average national expenditure on health in OECD countries is 9% of the GDP, of that approximately 6.5% public expenditure and 2.5% private expenditure (OECD data, 2011).
As a result, many medical services and medications have been slashed, and between 1995 and 2008, a 30% increase in household expenditure on health care was registered. Socioeconomic disparities exacerbate the situation, and the gaps between Arabs and Jews are particularly conspicuous: the gap in average life expectancy between wealthy Jewish communities and poor Arab communities in Israel is 8 whole years. Residents of the periphery and many of the poor and elderly in Israel have been forced to forgo essential medical services, including medications, because they are unable to afford them. For example, approximately one third of the population forgoes dental care. The percentage of elderly people who are completely toothless is estimated at over 50%.
Housing Market
The government policy and the cuts in the housing budget have led to the current situation, in which housing prices are unaffordable to large parts of the population. The Israeli real-estate market today primarily offers large and expensive apartments: in 2008, the average size of a new apartment was 182 square meters. Today, nearly half of construction starts are not intended for the broader public, but rather for private initiatives or buyer groups and organizations, making it more difficult for minorities and weaker populations to find appropriate housing.
Since there is no rent control, rent prices are soaring and currently 20% of Israeli households are spending over 50% of their disposable income on rent payments. At the same time, there is an acute shortage in public housing. According to the State Comptroller Report, the number of apartments provided for eligible persons in 2007 was 32% less than in 2002. Theoretically, other eligible applicants are sent to rent an apartment in the private market with monetary support, but in 2003 the support for new joiners was cut by half – from 1170 NIS to 536 NIS – and it does not correspond with the actual housing prices in many areas of the country.
Israel’s unemployment rate currently stands at 6.7%, but the average salary is relatively low. Approximately 60% of employees earn less than 75% of the national average salary, with 40% of employees earning less than half the national average salary (National Insurance Institute data, 2008). Additionally, there is a gender gap in wages: the average salary of women in the workforce was 63% of the average salary of their male counterparts (CBS data, 2008). In 2000 Israeli workers made 68% of the national income, decreasing to 63% of the national income in 2010. Many workers do not enjoy the social rights they are entitled to under the law, because there are no adequate monitoring mechanisms to ensure that. Temporary agency workers comprise 5-10% of the Israeli workforce, whereas in developed countries the average is approximately 1.5% of workers. Today, 39% of Israelis say they cannot subsist on their income (OECD data, 2011).
The social safety net for the unemployed is especially flimsy: unemployment insurance in Israel is one of the poorest in the West, both in terms of eligibility requirements and in terms of the money provided. In 2010, only about 25% of the non-working population in Israel was eligible for unemployment benefits. Furthermore, the budget of Israel’s Employment Service is very low in relation to OECD standards – 0.02% of the GDP, compared to an average of 0.4% of the GDP in OECD countries (20 times lower). The budget cuts in professional training have created a situation where today there are almost no professional training programs provided by the State.
Social Services
In the past two decades, welfare services in Israel have been slashed and a large portion of them have been privatized, from various institutions caring for children and adults to the placement of children who have been removed from their homes. The supervision of these privatized services is poor, and in some cases the supervision itself has also been privatized. Numerous complaints have been filed following damage caused to patients in various welfare programs. Furthermore, there are severe gaps and inequality in the level of welfare services provided by different local municipalities, stemming from the way these services are funded, and there is a shortage of available programs caring for children removed from their parents’ homes and for at-risk youth. More than a thousand additional social workers positions are needed. Moreover, Israel has no index for determining a minimal, dignified existence.
As of 2010, the subsidizing of the water market has been completely halted, and water prices have increased by 40-50%, according to the data of the Water Authority. As a result, the number of people being disconnected from water has substantially increased, as tens of thousands of consumers every year are unable to afford the soaring water prices.
Public Opinion
Most Israelis still believe in the need for social solidarity: 82% of Israelis believe that free medical care should be provided even to patients with no health insurance; 79% of Israelis believe that in order to protect democracy, Israel must invest more money in the education system in economically disadvantaged areas, even at the expense of other budget items (Israel Democracy Institute survey, 2010).
Legal Status
In Israel, social, economic, and cultural rights are not recognized in a constitution nor enshrined in the Basic Laws, as opposed to some civil and political rights. This, despite the fact that Israel is a signatory to the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights. Existing legislation in this area is only partial, and many of those rights which are anchored in law – such as the right to education and the right to health care – are only partially granted.
About ACRI’s Social and Economic Rights Department

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Categories: Arab Citizens of Israel, Child Rights, Housing Rights, Labor Rights, Privatization, Social and Economic Rights, The Right to Education, The Right to Equality, The Right to Health, Welfare

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