08/13/2004, 00.00
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Israel could become a "fourth world" country

Jerusalem (AsiaNews/JP) – As striking as it may seem about one Israeli in two (46%) cannot meet monthly household expenses, this according to a study commissioned by the Finance Ministry and released by Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics.

The study is based on a survey of 7,000 people over the age of 20. It shows that one Israeli in six (14% or more than 500,000 people) rations food, one in two (54%) clothing and footwear, and four in ten (38%) avoid heating or air-conditioning their homes; all this for lack of money.

When it comes to health care one Israeli in six (16%) does not buy the prescription drugs he or she needs, almost one in two (45%) goes without necessary dental care, and half of all Israelis lack supplementary health insurance. One smoker in four (27%) has quit because this luxury has become unaffordable. Here, too, economics is the main culprit.

On the bright side, in 2003 48% of Israelis said they were satisfied with their financial situation, a rate comparable to that of 2002. Similarly, 39% thought things would improve for them in the coming years, a rate also comparable to that of 2002. Moreover, in 2003 only 24% of Israelis thought their economic situation would get worse compared to 39% in 2002. Among Israeli Arabs, 47% thought their situation would improve.

Asked about the results, Israel's Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that "the report was drafted in 2003, when the economy was still at a low point, before it had begun to recover. In the current year, the economy has shifted in growth, and taxes have been lowered by billions of shekels."

Critics have however seized on the results to indict Netanyahu's economic policies. Knesset Member (MK) Roman Bronfman for the opposition Yahad party called the results the "direct result of the Finance Ministry's impervious and oppressive policies that sustain and deepen social inequalities." The former Interior Minister, Shas party MK Eli Yishai, warned against Israel becoming a "fourth world".

An aide at the Ministry of Social Affairs responded arguing that the numbers are misleading since Israelis are chronically in overdraft and might not have a realistic sense of their 'household' expenses or waste money on name-brand clothing. He said that the 14% who "feel poor" are close to the 18% of the population that actually falls below the poverty line.

Israel's population stood at 6.4 million people in 2002; its per capita Gross Domestic Product, at US$ 16,000. (World Bank data).

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