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Bituach Leumi, the National Insurance Institute of Israel (NII) published its annual Poverty and Inequality Report for 2020 in which it underscored the “significant importance of social assistance,” as demonstrated during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) period.

“The Corona epidemic and dealing with it led to a severe economic crisis in 2020,” the report, published on Wednesday, said. “GDP fell by 2.5% and the number of employed fell sharply by 9.4%. There was a decline in both the average and median income. The impact on income encompassed most of the working populations, but the populations that were particularly affected were the weak populations in the labor market whose wages were low even before the crisis.”

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In 2020, the standard of living in Israel increased by 2.4%, due to the previous government’s welfare policy of payments of benefits and grants to those affected by the pandemic’s economic shockwaves.

“If the government had not intervened, the standard of living would have fallen by a real rate of about 10%,” the report stated.

The NII expressed its opinion that eligibility criteria for some of the benefits should be eased, as well as raising the number of benefits that serve as a safety net for low-income families or those who are in temporary financial distress, such as income support, old-age benefits, and unemployment benefits.

Even in comparison to other countries, the model of social assistance provided during this period placed the State of Israel in close proximity to the OECD average compared to the low position in which Israel stood in previous years.

The report also examined the dimensions of food insecurity and found that a high proportion of people are living in food insecurity, with an emphasis on children, and this has a long-term impact, and therefore support for this population must be increased.

However, in comparison with 2016, the last time this issue was examined, a relative decrease in the percentage of families, senior citizens and children who are in food insecurity can be seen.

However, in comparison with 2016, the last time this issue was examined, a relative decrease in the percentage of families, senior citizens and children who are in food insecurity can be seen. The numbers are still high, with about 665,000 children, 976,000 adults, about 522,000 families and 120,000 senior citizens in food insecurity.

The number of poor people in Israel in 2020 was 1.9 million people, about 21% of the population, which is a decrease from 2019 when about 21.6% of people were poor.

Among Israeli children, there was also a decrease, when in 2020 there were about 864,000 poor families compared to about 877,000 in 2019. There was also a significant decrease among the elderly who are poor, as in 2019 there were about 179,000 poor senior citizens who constituted about 16% of the elderly population, and in 2020 the figure was 158,000 poor senior citizens, who are about 13.5%.

The rate of poor persons shows that there is an increase in the rate of poverty among families in which at least one of the breadwinners is a self-employed person.

The rate of poor persons shows that there is an increase in the rate of poverty among families in which at least one of the breadwinners is a self-employed person. The incidence of poverty among employees dropped from 17.8% in 2019 to 17% in 2020.

Of the largest cities, Jerusalem is at the top of the poor cities, followed by the Judea and Samaria district, and the city of Ashdod.

NII CEO Meir Spiegler stated that “with the outbreak of the Corona crisis, the National Insurance Institute understood the magnitude of the event and made social decisions that saved hundreds of thousands of families from poverty, placing Israel close to the OECD average in investing in citizens during the crisis.”

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who led these policies in recent years, stated Wednesday that “thanks to our economic policy, the percentage of the poor in Israel has fallen and the standard of living has risen – despite the corona crisis.”

“This is further proof that we have once again made the right decisions for the benefit of all Israeli citizens and that we have brought tremendous success in getting Israel out of the Corona in the best economic and health condition,” he said.

The current government, led by Naftali Bennett, has stated that it seeks to cut back on social support and end the Corona-related grants.

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Aryeh Savir is director of the International division of Tazpit News Agency.