[go to part III of the document]
Related international conventions binding Israel
251. Israel is a party to the ILO Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952 (No. 102) and regularly submits reports to the advisory committee on the measures taken to give effect to the provisions of the Convention. Its last report relates to the years 1992-1995.
252. Israel is also a party to the ILO Maintenance of Migrants' Pension Rights Convention (No. 48) since 1963; the last report covers the years 1979-1982.
253. In addition, since 1965 Israel is a party to the ILO Equality of Treatment (Social Security) Convention (No. 118); Israel's last report covers the years 1991-1993.
Social security branches in Israel
254. Most social security schemes in Israel are public and regulated by the National Security Law (Revised) 1995. The full text of this comprehensive law is attached in annex 2 to this report. The Law combines two kinds of arrangements: insurance-based rights, proportionate to the premiums paid; and arrangements aimed at assisting people in need. The Supreme Court declared the social purpose of this central piece of legislation as follows:
C.A. 255/77 The National Insurance Institute v. Almohar, P.D. vol. 29 (1) 11, 13-14.
255. The following branches of social security exist in Israel and are administered by the National Insurance Institute (hereinafter “NII”): maternity benefits; old-age benefits; disability (invalidity) benefits; survivors' benefits; work (employment) injury benefits; unemployment benefits; child allowances (family benefits). In addition, the NII is responsible for administering the following benefits and compensations: long-term care, mobility, income maintenance support, accident injury, rights of volunteers, hostile action casualties, violence in family, “Prisoners of Zion”, “Righteous Gentiles”, reserve duty service, insurance of employees of bankrupt and liquidated firms, guarantee of alimony payments and others.
256. The NII is also responsible both for collection and distribution of insurance premiums in relation to health services, according to the National Health Insurance Law which came into effect in January 1995. (Full account on this topic is provided under article 12 of this report.)
257. The following benefits are granted:
(a) Hospitalization grant, maternity grant and birth allowance to:
(i) Insured woman or wife of insured individual, even if she gave birth outside Israel;
(ii) Employee or self-employed woman working in Israel or the wife of an employee or self-employed individual working in Israel for at least six months immediately preceding the birth, even if not residents of Israel, provided she gave birth in Israel;
Paragraph (ii) above does not apply to an individual who lives in the territories or within the Palestinian Autonomy and is not an Israeli resident as defined by law;
(b) Maternity allowance and vacation pay to:
(i) An employee or self-employed woman, aged 18 or over, working in Israel;
(ii) A woman aged 18 or over in vocational training; a woman employee working abroad under certain conditions;
(c) Risk Pregnancy Benefit to a resident of Israel who is an employee or self-employed woman.
(ii) Nature and level of benefits
258. The maternity grant, given to the mother in the hospital to purchase a layette for the newborn child, is paid at the following rates: 20 per cent of the average wage* for one child, 100 per cent of the average wage for twins, and an additional 50 per cent of the average wage for every additional child born in the same birth. The grant for a multiple birth is determined according to the number of children who remain alive at least seven days; if they leave the hospital before the end of the seven-day period immediately following the birth, the grant is determined according to the number of children who leave the hospital.
259. An adopting parent receives a grant equivalent to the maternity grant, according to the number of children under 10 years old who were adopted on the same day.
260. Maternity allowance is paid at a rate of 100 per cent of the average daily income of the entitled woman in the three months preceding the determining date, from which income tax and (national and health) insurance contributions are deducted.
261. Other benefits under maternity insurance include the birth allowance, paid for six months to a mother who gives birth to three or more children at one birth; the risk pregnancy benefit, paid to a woman who ceases work due to need for precautionary rest as a result of a risk pregnancy; and the special allowance and benefit, paid to the widower of a woman who died while giving birth or within a year of giving birth.
* The reference is to the average wage according to the National Insurance Law, for purposes of benefits and insurance contributions. It is calculated according to a method determined in the Law, on 1 January of every year, and it is updated each time a cost-of-living compensation is paid to employees.
(iii) Method of financing
262. Financing of this branch is based on insurance premiums, or contributions (compulsory payments as percentage of wages or income), as follows:
Full rate Reduced rate*
Employee 0.60% 0.33%
Employer 0.15% 0.15%
Self-employed 0.75% 0.48%
Other insured 0.25% 0.11%
- for employee 0.10% 0.03%
- for self-employed 0.10% -
263. An Israeli resident, aged 18 or over, unless immigrated for the first time at age 60 or over, is insured for old-age benefits. A new immigrant who is not insured due to his age at the time of his immigration and who has reached pension age is eligible for a special old-age benefit. This benefit is not covered under the National Insurance Law but rather under a special agreement, and is paid at the same rate as the regular old-age pension.
264. A recent enactment which is to be gradually implemented enables a housewife whose husband is insured or a widow receiving a pension to be covered if she does not work outside the home, was born after 31 December 1930, is between the ages of 60 and 65, and is a resident of Israel. A married woman who does not work outside her home and who receives a general disability pension, as well as other individuals not covered in compulsory insurance, may insure themselves through voluntary insurance.
(ii) Coverage and nature of benefits
265. The basic old-age pension is intended to guarantee a minimum level of basic subsistence. Men aged 70 and over and women aged 65 and over are paid at a uniform rate of the average national wage, in accordance with percentages prescribed by law and according to the number of the insurees' dependants. For men aged 65-70 and women aged 60-65, payment of pension is conditional on a means test.
266. The pension rates, as percentage of the average wage, are as follows: single person – 16 per cent; couple –24 per cent; couple with one child – 29 per cent; couple with two or more children – 34 per cent; single person with one child – 21 per cent; single person with two or more children – 26 per cent. Pension payments are adjusted whenever the average wage is adjusted.
267. The dependants' increment is paid for husband or wife, and for each of the first two children of the person receiving pension on condition that they do not receive a pension themselves. Increment rates are included in the pension rates given above. A housewife is not entitled to a dependant's increment, but to the basic pension only.
268. Other increments include seniority increment (2 per cent of the pension for each year in excess of 10 years' insurance, up to a ceiling of 50 per cent of the pension), deferred retirement income (5 per cent of the pension for each year that the person – aged 65-70 for men, 60-65 for women – was not eligible for a pension because he/she has an earned income, up to a ceiling of 50 per cent of the pension) and income supplement.
269. The old-age and survivors' pensions are financed by insurance contributions and by government participation, as follows:
(a) Insurance contributions
Full rate Reduced rate
Employee 2.70% 1.46%
Employer 1.85% 1.85%
Self-employed 4.55% 2.63%
Other insured 5.42% 2.63%
- for employee 0.87% 0.19%
- for self-employed 0.87% 0.07%
(b) Government participation
The Government provides allocations at the rate of 15 per cent of total insurance contribution receipts, full financing of pensions to new immigrants, and financing of income supplement to pension recipients.
270. An Israeli resident aged 18 or over and not yet 65 (man) or 60 (woman) is eligible.
271. The monthly disability pension is paid at the rate of 25 per cent of the average wage for a single person whose degree of disability is at least 75 per cent. This pension is increased by 7 per cent. For those with a lower disability degree, the pension is calculated at a rate proportionate to the disability degree. The pension is adjusted whenever the average wage is adjusted.
272. The dependant's increment, as a percentage of the average wage, is as follows: for dependent spouse - 12.5 per cent, based on a means test; for each of the first two children – 10 per cent, with an increase of 7 per cent for each additional child. The dependant's increment is also subject to a means test of the disabled person. A housewife is entitled to dependant's increment for her children only.
273. Other benefits under General Disability Insurance include:
(a) Attendant's allowance: a pension equivalent to 50 per cent, 100 per cent or 150 per cent of the full individual pension is paid to the severely disabled who are dependent on the help of others for the performance of everyday tasks or who are in need of supervision;
(b) Survivor's grant: a one-time grant equivalent to the amount of the average wage paid to the spouse, or in the absence thereof, to the child or children of a deceased person who received a disability pension;
(c) Disabled child benefit: a pension equivalent to 30-120 per cent of the full individual pension, paid to assist parents with the heavy burden of caring for a disabled child at home;
(d) Special benefit for new immigrant: similar to the attendance allowance, paid to severely disabled new immigrants.
274. Disability benefits are financed from insurance contributions, as follows:
Employee 1.30% 0.71%
Employer 0.38% 0.38%
Self-employed 1.68% 0.95%
Other insured 1.95% 0.87%
- for employee 0.27% 0.09%
- for self-employed 0.27% 0.02%
Further, the State finances the special benefit for new immigrants.
275. Same as for old-age benefits above, with the following exception: a married woman whose husband is insured or a widow who receives a pension, if she does not work outside her home is not covered by compulsory insurance; there is, however, an arrangement for voluntary insurance.
276. The survivors' pension is paid to the survivors of a deceased insured individual at levels similar to those of the old-age pension. Pension rates (as a percentage of the average wage) are as follows:
For widow/widower with a child, 16%
or aged 50 or above
For each child of the above 7.5% increment
For widow/widower aged 40-49 without 12%
For children for whom the widow/widower 10% for a single child
is not eligible for an increment 7.5% for each child if there is more than one child
For children who have no parents or 10% for each child
whose surviving parent permanently
277. If both parents die, a child is entitled to receive two survivors' pensions by force of these two separate entitlements.
278. Pensions are adjusted whenever the average wage is adjusted. Increments to the pension include seniority increment and income supplement.
279. See old-age benefits above.
Employment injury benefits
280. Covered for employment injury benefits are the following groups: employees (except for policemen, jailers and defence employees), self-employed persons, vocational trainees, persons undergoing vocational rehabilitation, working prisoners, foreign residents (including residents of the Territories and the Autonomy, working in Israel), Israelis working abroad for an Israeli employer – under certain conditions; persons whose wages are determined by law (such as Knesset members).
281. The main benefits are the injury allowance and the work disability benefit (pension and grant).
282. The injury allowance is paid for the period of incapacity to work as a result of the work injury (work accident or occupational disease), for a maximum period of 182 days beginning from the day after the injury, calculated by day, on the basis of 75 per cent of the injured person's wages liable for insurance contributions in the quarter-year prior to the injury. The daily injury allowance has a maximum limit. Injury allowance is not paid for the first two days after the injury, unless the injured person was not capable of working for at least 12 days.
283. If the person becomes disabled as a result of the work injury and has a permanent disability degree of 20 per cent or over, he receives a monthly work disability pension according to the degree of medical disability, paid at a rate proportionate to the wages and degree of disability. The pension is updated according to the cost-of-living increment and according to the changes that took place in the average wage as it was on the previous 1 January. A person receiving a disability pension who belongs to a low-income group is entitled to an income supplement. Work disabled with a disability degree of 5-19 per cent receive a one-time work disability grant equivalent to “the daily injury allowance x 21 x the disability degree”.
284. Other benefits under work injury insurance include a special grant to the disabled with difficulty in walking and benefits to dependants (widows/widowers).
285. Work injury benefits are financed by insurance contributions, as follows:
Employee no payment
Employer 0.53% 0.53%
Self-employed 0.53% 0.33%
Other insured no payment
- for employee 0.17% 0.01%
- for self-employed 0.17% 0.02%
286. The Government participates in providing an income supplement to the disabled and their dependants under the Income Support Law.
287. An Israeli or temporary resident who is an employee between the ages of 18 and 65, and a soldier within one year of demobilization from regular service are eligible.
288. The daily unemployment benefit is calculated at rates determined by law, on the basis of the daily average wage of the unemployed person during the last 75 work days of the qualifying period, up to the wage ceiling that has been determined.
289. For a demobilized soldier, the rate is determined on the basis of the daily average wage, calculated as 80 per cent of half the average wage, but not more than 80 per cent of the minimum wage.
290. Unemployment benefits are financed from insurance contributions, as follows:
Employee 0.15% 0.08%
Employer 0.04% 0.04%
Ministry of Defence unemployment benefit
to soldiers released
from the standing army
- for employee 0.11% 0.07%
291. All residents are covered.
292. The child allowance is a monthly allowance paid to families according to the number of children in the family. The allowance rates, linked to the credit point as in the Income Tax Order, are as follows: for each of the first two children – one credit point (NIS 144 in January 1997); for the third child – 2.0 credit points; for the fourth child – 4.05 credit points; for the fifth child – 3.4 credit points; for the sixth child – 3.75 credit points; for the seventh and each additional child – 3.5 credit points.
293. The allowance rates are updated at the beginning of every fiscal year at the full rate of the previous year's rise in the Consumer Price Index, and whenever a cost-of-living increment is paid.
294. It should be noted that until 1994 there was a Special Increment for Veterans to the children's allowance, paid to families in which one of whose members served in the Israeli Defence Forces or other security branches. In January 1994 began a process of equalization of the level of the children's allowance, irrespective of military service. In the course of this process, which continued until the beginning of 1997, the number of child-allowance points of a family that did not receive Special Increment for Veterans was gradually equalized to the number of points of a family that did receive this increment. This amendment led to a rise in the level of the children's allowance paid to about 220,000 families with three or more children.
295. Child allowance is financed from insurance contributions, as follows:
Full rate Reduced rate
Employer 1.88% 1.88%
Self-employed 1.88% 1.18%
Other insured 2.48% 1.10%
Government 0.60% 0.04%
- for employee
- for self-employed 0.60% 0.06%
296. The Government participates at a rate of 160 per cent of total insurance contribution receipts.
297. Social security benefit payments amounted in 1995 to 7.0 per cent of GNP and 12.1 per cent of the government budget, as compared with 5.3 per cent of GNP and 3.5 per cent of the government budget in 1984. The main reason for the increased share of benefit payments in both GNP and the government budget is the massive immigration to Israel from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, which increased the number of benefit recipients, especially recipients of old-age pensions, children's allowances and unemployment benefits, by more than 60 per cent.
Combined public and private social security schemes
298. In the 50 years since its establishment, the State of Israel has succeeded in building a comprehensive system of social protection encompassing both social insurance and social assistance programmes. The National Insurance Institute is responsible for the administration of the social insurance programmes, as well as for payment of benefits under the social assistance programme, anchored in the Income Maintenance Law, 1990.
299. The majority of the formal social security schemes provide long-term benefits, which guarantee minimum subsistence by means of a flat-rate benefit (e.g. to every elderly person, to the disabled) as well as income supplements for those with no other sources of income. Other schemes (e.g. unemployment, maternity) provide short-term benefits aimed at providing income to persons temporarily out of work, and these are paid at rates relative to previous wages. Thus, in most cases, the formal system is sufficient for providing social protection to all sectors of the population. However, a number of informal arrangements do exist regarding a number of schemes, and these will be briefly outlined below.
The pension system
300. The pension system in Israel today consists of two main tiers: the first is the formal State one, whose main function is to provide the country's citizens with basic economic protection and a minimum level of subsistence. This tier is operated by the National Insurance Institute. The second tier is intended to supplement the income of the worker and his/her family so that he/she may maintain a standard of living similar to the one he/she enjoyed when he/she worked, in terms of a defined percentage of his/her work income. This tier is operated not by the State, but by means of the voluntary public insurance arrangements of the trade unions.
301. The second tier consists mainly of insurance arrangements within seven Histadrut (General Federation of Labor) pension funds and another eight smaller pension funds, together covering over 80 per cent of employees in Israel. Such insurance arrangements are often anchored in collective work agreements between employers and employees, and guarantee pensions related to the workers' wage level. Some pension funds provide their members with additional social rights under these agreements. Some of such collective agreements are extended by extension order (this tool is described under article 8 of this report) to cover all workers in specific branches of labour. This tier also includes all civil servants and municipal employees who enjoy a budgetary pension under a special law.
302. A third, far less comprehensive tier consists of private savings which may amount to a significant share of retirement income for many individuals.
303. The Long-Term Care Insurance (LTCI) scheme in Israel, implemented by the NII, provides a service benefit to the elderly who are largely dependent on the help of others to perform everyday functions (dressing, eating, washing, mobility in the home, etc.). Those entitled to the benefit receive long-term care services from a basket of services defined by law, which includes: assistance of care-givers in the performance of everyday functions in the home and household management, care in day-care centres for the elderly, laundry services, etc. The benefit is paid to the organization providing the services, and not directly to the elderly person.
304. This benefit was enacted in 1986 as a new chapter within the National Insurance Law (chap. 6 E). From its early stages, the purpose of this legislation was not to finance existing formal services, but to complement the then-existing system of service provision in terms of scope and quality, as well as to enhance the family's role as primary care-giver. LTCI was viewed at the first stage of implementation as an additional element in the broader spectrum of long-term care, both institutional and non-institutional.
305. Research has shown that in Israel the family is the primary provider of long-term care to the elderly and is in fact the most important resource in this care. Studies show that prior to the implementation of the law in 1988, approximately 80 per cent of the elderly dependent in functional activities of daily living were receiving care from family members, while formal services provided by Government and public agencies covered a much lower proportion of the aged. The legislators of LTCI were interested in encouraging the continued provision of informal care provided by the family, and thus did not exclude from eligibility for benefit individuals who were receiving adequate care from informal sources, thus recognizing the implied costs of this informal care.
306. Under the law, two rates of benefit are provided: the first, equivalent to a full disability pension, or 10 hours of care per week, for an elderly person who has become dependent to a large extent on the help of others for the performance of everyday functions or who is in need of supervision; and the second rate, equivalent to 150 per cent of a full disability pension, or 15 hours of care per week, for an elderly person who has become completely dependent on the help of others for the performance of everyday functions or who is in need of constant supervision. In any event, the payment of benefit is not higher than the recompense for the actual hours of care provided.
307. Since the law was first implemented, hundreds of service-providers have been set up and consolidated, about half of them public non-profit organizations and half commercial profit businesses. In many cases, the hours of care covered by LTCI are not sufficient, and the elderly persons' families supplement these with additional hours of care paid for privately from their own pockets, often by the same companies. In any case, the care provided by outside help, whether it is financed totally or only partially by social security, does not take the place of the family in the care of the elderly person, but only eases its burden of care.
The Counselling Service for the Elderly and Pensioners
308. In 1972 the NII developed a Counselling Service for the Elderly and Pensioners within its own framework. In addition, a group of friendly home visitors was organized to visit elderly people who were unable to come themselves to the local branches of the NII in order to receive aid and advice. The service is based on the work of volunteers, themselves elderly, who belong to and are supervised by the system which supplies the welfare services, but are not tied to its formal procedures. Thus, they may act as informal mediators between the system and the needy elderly.
309. The aim of the service is to improve the services provided to the elderly by the NII and not to limit itself to the granting of monetary pensions only. The NII recognized the need to place an informal system of advice and mediation not connected with bureaucratic procedures at the disposal of the elderly and pensioners in order to ensure that pensioners maximize the use of their social security rights and welfare services in the community. The project proved itself, and today operates in all NII local branches throughout the country.
Equality in social security
310. The social security system in Israel is universal with most programmes covering all residents of the country. Social security benefits are aimed particularly at the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups: the elderly (old-age, survivors and long-term care benefits), the disabled (general disability benefits, work disability benefits, mobility allowances), the poor (income maintenance benefits), divorced and separated women (alimony guarantee payments), children (children's allowances) and the unemployed (unemployment allowances). It may therefore be stated that there are no groups which do not enjoy the right to social security at all, or who do so to a significantly lesser degree than the majority of the population.
311. The Government endeavours to ensure that the right to social security, which is both inherent and explicitly guaranteed by law, is indeed enjoyed by all, and the measures it takes in this respect are detailed below. Furthermore, it reviews legislative measures to improve the situation of various sectors of the population.
312. Regarding women, it should be noted that regardless of their personal status, women who work outside of their homes and who are paid for their work are entitled to all the benefits from the NII to which men of similar status are entitled.
313. Women, except for “housewives” (to be discussed separately), are eligible for all the benefits that are set forth in the National Insurance Law (NIL) under the same conditions as men. They are covered by work injuries insurance, vocational training, survivors' benefits, accident insurance, children's allowance, unemployment insurance, disability insurance, insurance of employee in bankrupt and liquidated firms, reserve duty benefits and long-term care insurance.
314. There are no distinctions in the law regarding the contributions (premiums) of men and women to the NII. The amount of contributions of each insured person is set as a percentage of the insured person’s income, regardless of gender. It should be pointed out that only housewives (married women whose spouses are insured and who do not work outside their home) are exempt from contributions toward the benefits to which they are entitled to under the law.
315. Housewives are not covered by all types of insurance. Housewives are not considered workers according to the NIL, and therefore are not eligible for income-replacement benefits such as work injuries insurance, maternity allowance, unemployment insurance, insurance of employees in bankruptcy, and to seniority increments to the old-age pension. Women are eligible for old-age pension from the age of 60 and men from the age of 65, subject to a means test, and from the age of 65 for women and 70 for men, regardless of income. This distinction is due to the differences in retirement age that still exist in Israel, and women have the option to retire at the age of 60. All women, including housewives, are insured by long-term care insurance, and the conditions of entitlement are identical to that of men with one distinction: the age of entitlement for women is 60 and for men 65.
316. Distinctions exist between housewives and all other insured persons regarding disability insurance. A housewife requires at least 50 per cent medical disability to qualify for benefits compared with 40 per cent medical disability for other insured persons.
317. Differences also exist between the definitions of widower and widow pertaining to survivor's benefits under work injuries insurance. A widower is defined as (i) someone who has a child living with him or (ii) is unable to support himself or (iii) whose income is not more than a determined sum. A widow is defined as someone who is (i) 40 years or over, or (ii) has a child living with her, or (iii) is unable to support herself.
318. NII is first and foremost concerned that the individual take full advantage of his/her social insurance rights. Every insured person who dutifully paid insurance contributions during his/her working years is entitled to receive complete and reliable information on his/her rights and to ensure they are drawn on. The NII believes that the insuring body, namely itself, is at least partly responsible for guaranteeing these rights and that it should not be left to the extent to which the individual is capable of doing so. The NII has initiated a number of activities aimed at increasing the awareness of the insured person's rights, providing the means for the person to take full advantage of his/her rights, and minimizing the bureaucratic procedures involved.
319. Following are the main such activities:
(a) Once a year, every beneficiary receives an annual confirmation detailing the types of benefits he/she receives and the monthly sums transferred to his/her account over the past year. This confirmation is recognized by all public authorities, such as government ministries, local authorities and health funds, for purposes of granting a wide range of discounts and benefits to specific population groups; for example, discounts in urban taxes, discounts in rents in public housing, discounts in telephone fees, etc.;
(b) Just before a man reaches the age of 65 or a woman the age of 60, he/she receives a letter in the mail informing him/her of possible rights to an old-age pension, the rules of entitlement and a claims form. This guarantees that the pension is initiated immediately upon retirement, without any unnecessary bureaucratic delay;
(c) The family of every child born in a hospital is automatically entitled to child allowances, without the mother having to submit a claims form to the NII. This automatic registration is made possible due to an agreement signed between the NII, the Ministry of the Interior and the hospitals, according to which the hospitals inform the NII and the Ministry simultaneously of every live birth and the identifying data on the mother. This serves as a basis for including the newborn child in the children's file at the NII and for paying the allowance directly to the mother's bank account;
(d) Many new immigrants are entitled to receive benefits, such as special old-age benefits and child allowances, from the NII immediately upon their arrival in Israel. In order to guarantee immediate commencement of rights, all the demographic information needed by the NII is received on magnetic tape directly from the data file produced at the airport. In this way, new immigrant families receive all benefits due them without having to report personally to a local branch of the NII and submit a claim;
(e) Information booklets on national insurance rights, including amendments in relevant laws, are published regularly in various languages, and distributed to all health and social service agencies in the community;
(f) Intensive use is made of the local and national press, and prime-time spots are purchased on the national radio and television stations to pass on information to the public;
(g) Sophisticated computerized technology has been installed in each of the NII's local branches, so that every claimant can receive immediate information on the state of his/her account and on the benefits being paid him/her.
320. The many and varied methods used in Israel to transfer information to the public on its rights have been proven extremely effective in guaranteeing that persons take full advantage of their rights to the various benefits paid by the NII. An ongoing follow-up study carried out on this topic shows that close to 98 per cent of the entire potential population of beneficiaries receives benefits at the scope and level that they are entitled to under law. In the NII's opinion, it is impossible to ensure that 100 per cent of the population maximizes its entitlement benefits and recognizes the fact that despite all its sincere efforts, there will always remain a marginal percentage of the population that does not receive the benefits to which it is entitled. Its experience has shown that projects aimed at the full implementation of rights has led to rather disappointing results, ones certainly not justifying the high costs entailed.
321. The following measures taken to implement rights to social security in legislation, should be noted.
322. Women. Housewives traditionally were not entitled to old-age pensions in their own right. They were thus exempt from paying contributions to the NII, and received half of the old-age pension of their spouses. In 1996, in order to achieve greater gender equality in the social security system, the law was amended and housewives now receive the minimum old-age pension although they are still exempt from contributions. As a result, within a few years all women in Israel, regardless of their working status, will be covered by old-age insurance.
323. The elderly. Another vulnerable group which has received careful attention and allocation of resources in Israel are the aged, especially those who are severely dependent due to functional disability, chronic disease and cognitive impairment. The State continues to provide personal care services at home and in day centres to over 8 per cent of its elderly population under its community Long-Term Care Insurance Law of 1988. This law provides personal care on the basis of personal entitlement, thus enabling even severely disabled elderly people to remain at home, with dignity and in familiar surroundings, as long as they are able, and reduces the burden of care borne by the family.
324. The poor. As part of its programme to combat poverty and income gaps, the Government raised the level of old-age pensions by 7 per cent. Various legal provisions exist for the elderly to further improve their economic situation and enhance their quality of life and participation in society by significantly subsidizing municipal taxes, public transportation and medication for low-income groups.
325. The underlying principle of new anti-poverty legislation in Israel has been to equalize the rights to social protection between genders and among various groups of beneficiaries having similar needs, as well as raising the minimum income guaranteed to the most vulnerable groups: the elderly and single-parent families.
326. In order to reduce the number of families living below the poverty line, Israel has continued to expand its Law for Reducing the Scope of Poverty and Income Gaps, aimed at increasing protection of the most vulnerable social groups. Recent legislation significantly increased benefits paid to the elderly, the disabled, as well as single-parent families. In order to reduce poverty among large families, which constitute the most at-risk poverty group in Israel, the Government has completed final steps to raise the level of its universal child allowances to large families which will include groups which previously did not have full coverage.
327. One of Israel's most important recent accomplishments was the implementation of a National Health Insurance Program. Since 1995 there effectively has been universal coverage based on a comprehensive basket of health services. A more equitable system of health tax has been established with especially low health insurance rates set for low wage earners and all recipients of income maintenance benefits. Low contribution rates have also been set for all elderly recipients of old-age pensions. The effectiveness of this law will be measured to a large degree by the degree of equity in the access to quality health care for poor and other marginalized groups, which will be carefully monitored during the next few years.
328. Further review of trends and changes in national legislation, court decisions, etc. is available in the NII's report, Summary of Developments and Trends in Social Security - 1996, submitted to the International Social Security Association (ISSA).
329. Regarding measures taken to improve the lot of the vulnerable groups, it may be concluded that although we have been successful in reducing unemployment levels, pockets of high unemployment remain, especially in outlying development areas. The Government's policy is to continue allocating resources for the reduction of unemployment and poverty in these areas, thus reducing dependency on social support systems.
330. In order to continue Israel's war on poverty it is incumbent on policy makers not only to increase benefits but also to expand funding sources. Therefore, one important direction for policy will be the close examination of our social security system with the objective of increasing the degree of progressivity in our system, both in terms of taxes and the system of benefits targeted at the most vulnerable groups.
International cooperation and assistance
331. The International Labour Organization (ILO) and the ISSA provide the National Insurance Institute with a great deal of technical assistance, mainly by means of study grants abroad to senior employees of the NII. The NII, on its part, endeavours to reciprocate by assisting in guidance and instruction of workers studying abroad, particularly workers from Asia and Africa. Israel belongs to the Asian-African branch of ISSA, and within this framework participates in most regional conferences.
332. Furthermore, Israeli representatives regularly participate in the ISSA General Assembly meetings that take place every three years and in the technical activities of the organization by means of the various permanent committees, such as by replying to questionnaires distributed periodically.
333. However, the main mutual activity of Israel and ISSA is in the field of research. Israel actively participates in ISSA research conferences by preparing research papers and presenting them at almost every conference. In 1979 a research conference on the topic of “The Mutual Relationships between the Direct Taxation System and Social Insurance” took place in Jerusalem in 1979, and in 1989 our capital once again hosted a research conference on the subject of long-term care services for the very old. In January 1998 we are again scheduled to host an ISSA research conference on the subject of the impact of social insurance and other social support benefits on human behaviour.
334. In conclusion, the cooperation between ISSA and Israel contributes considerably to both sides. The experience of other countries has helped us in the development and expansion of various social security schemes, while Israel's contribution is expressed mainly in research and distribution of research findings to other countries through ISSA. Thus, the main goal of ISSA as an international organization – the promotion and development of social security in the world by means of international cooperation – is realized.
335. Israel is a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and in May 1997 submitted its first report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
336. Israel is a party to the ILO Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138). Its last report was submitted in 1996 and relates to the years 1991-1995.
337. Israel is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to the Convention on the Rights of the Child since 1991, and will soon be submitting its initial reports on both Covenants.
Meaning of “family”
The definition of the term “family” in Israeli law
338. The term “family” is not uniformly defined in Israeli law, and different definitions can be found in distinct acts of legislation. Depending on their legislative purpose, some acts have taken a wide encompassing approach and defined the term “family” broadly. Hence, in the Domestic Violence Prevention Law, 1991, a “family member” is defined as: “spouse, parent, or parent's spouse, spouse's parent or his or her spouse, grandfather or grandmother, child or spouse's child, brother or sister, brother-in-law or sister-in-law, uncle or aunt, cousin or niece; whoever is responsible for the living, health, education or welfare needs of a minor or incapacitated person who is living with him/her, and a minor or incapacitated person living with such a guardian”. For this law's purposes there is no difference between a present and a former family member.
339. A similarly broad definition can be found in the Court for Family Matters Law, 1995. A person's family member is defined there as – “(a) his/her spouse, including a partner for life, his/her ex-spouse, his/her spouse the marriage with whom has been annulled, provided that the subject matter of the proceedings is a consequence of the relation between them in the time period they were man and wife; (b) his/her child, including his/her spouse's child; (c) his/her parents, his/her spouse's parents or their spouses; (d) his/her grandchild; (e) his/her grandparents; (f) his/her or his/her spouse's brothers and sisters. A parent – includes a step-parent or a legal guardian”.
340. At the same time, other acts have adopted a stricter reading of the term. For example, in the National Security Law (Revised Version), 1995, a family member is considered to be only “one of the parents, a child, a grandchild, a brother or a sister”. Similarly, in the Equal Employment Opportunities Law, 1988, family members are narrowly defined as “spouse, parent, child, grandchild, brother, sister or a spouse of any of those”.
341. The approach taken by the Israeli courts in ascertaining the meaning of the term “family” or “spouse” is also a functional approach which takes into account the policy goals of the pertinent legislation or agreement. Consequently, the courts have tended in some cases to stretch the concept of family beyond traditional understanding. Thus, the Supreme Court held that a tort victim has the right to claim compensation for services received from the kibbutz (collective farm) he/she lived on, on similar terms to the right to claim for services rendered by family members:
C.A. 619/78 Hunovitz v. Cohen, P.D. vol. 35 (4) 281, 295-96
H.C. 721/94 El Al Israeli Airlines v. Danilovich, P.D. vol. 48 (5) 749, 785-86
Meaning of family in administrative practice
343. Many individual entitlements to social services and benefits are shaped taking into account familial recourses. By “family” one usually means in the present context the nuclear family: parents and children. But the structure of family is in a constant state of flux. On one hand, single parenthood has risen sharply in the last 10 years (1985: 54,600; 1995: 91,900) and the state of non-marital cohabitation is partly recognized by the State for purposes of social security, pension, damages awards under torts law, resident's protection against eviction, income tax regulations, and administrative or legal benefits of various sorts. On the other hand, the concept of “extended family” is used more and more, clearly including grandparents, brothers and sisters, even though it still lacks clarity in public cognition. (The status of the “tribe”, for example, is scarcely considered in this context.) In short, the legitimacy of “non-traditional” family types and the dynamic nature of families now seems to be widely recognized, but concepts still have to be shaped and sharpened.
344. In allocating resources the Government aims to support various forms of “family”, while not taking a stand on which concept of family is preferable. Some benefits exist for small single-parent families and others provide added financial assistance to those families which have four or more children. At the same time, the weakened ties with extended family are being strengthened through benefits which encourage families to provide care for their ageing relatives within their own homes.
345. The practical nature of allocating resources across the social spectrum, while healing the damage caused by Israel's push into modernity, is a daunting task. Nonetheless, each form of family is legitimate in the eyes of the State and is accorded a considerable degree of both social and financial support under the law.
346. Majority, for the purposes of civil law, takes place at different ages, depending upon the specific issue. For the purposes of responsibility in civil legal proceedings, it is 18 years old. Upon reaching majority, a person may make a legal contract, sue or be sued, or carry out any other legal action or process. Prior to the age of 18, any legal action or contract entered into by a minor may be voided by his/her parent or guardian.
347. Criminal liability. Generally, majority for the purpose of criminal liability is the age 12. Adolescents by the age of 18 are to be tried at a special juvenile court. There are specific legal provisions for exceptional cases where a youngster may nevertheless be tried as an adult.
348. The right to vote. The right to vote in national and municipal elections is granted to all citizens or residents, respectively, who have reached the age of 18.
349. Military conscription. An individual is eligible for conscription into the Israeli Defense Forces from the day of his/her eighteenth birthday. A person aged 17½ may volunteer for the armed forces providing that his/her parents have given permission.
350. Consent to marry. Women may marry without their parent's/guardian's permission from the age of 17 except for special circumstances. There is no minimum age for males. A revision of the status quo as to the age of consent for males is presently under consideration.
351. Legal capacity and compulsory psychiatric hospitalization. A youth aged 15 or older may appeal an order for his/her compulsory hospitalization in a psychiatric institution. In such cases, the court appoints a legal representative to present the interests of the youth during the appeal process.
Assistance to the family and its protection
The fundamental right to family life
352. The right to family life was addressed by the Supreme Court on several occasions. It has stated:
A.C.R. 2401/95 Nahmani v. Nahmani, Takdin-Supreme vol. 96 (3) 526
353. The court emphasized in some of its decisions the autonomy of the family unit and its immunity from State intervention:
C.A. 5587/93 Nahmani v. Nahmani, Takdin-Supreme, vol. 95 (1) 1239, 1241.
354. Furthermore, the court recognized as a constitutional human right the right to parenthood:
C.A. 451/88 Anonymous v. The State of Israel, P.D. vol. 44 (1), 330, 337.
And so is the case of the right of parents to raise and educate their children, as they think best:
C.A. 2266/93 Doe v. Roe, P.D. vol. 49 (1) 229, 238-89.
355. The Marriage Age Law, 1950, states that the minimum marital age for all women in Israel is 17. No minimum age for men is set. Since the substantive law that applies in matters of marriage is derived from the individual's religious law, the minimum age for men would be drawn from religious law.
356. The minimum age requirement is accompanied by provisions that make the arrangement of under-age marriages a criminal offence punishable by up to two years' imprisonment. The possible offenders include the person who arranges the marriage, the person who conducts the marriage, and the marrying man himself. The under-age woman is excluded. The law also provides that the mere fact that a marriage was conducted in violation of this law is a ground for divorce.
357. Article 5 of the Marriage Age Law, 1950 provides for two alternative grounds for judicial permission of under-age marriage. The first one relates to circumstances in which the under-age woman is pregnant from or has given birth to the child of the man whom she asks permission to marry. No age limit at all is attached to this ground for exception. The second relates to unspecified “special circumstances” that would justify immediate marriage, provided the woman is over 16 years old. Since the legislature has left those “special circumstances” unspecified, the Supreme Court has taken it upon itself to provide instructions as to the substance of those circumstances. In one of the leading cases, then Justice Barak firmly stated that a community's custom and tradition do not justify marital exception, since it is those traditions and customs that the Marriage Age Law, 1950 was set to abolish.
358. Criminal sanctions contribute to the reduction of the phenomenon of marriages involving minors. However, it has not been eliminated altogether, as can be seen from the following tables, which contain data on marital ages in Israel.
Source: Central Bureau of Statistics.
359. Since questions of marriage and divorce are determined by religious law alone, the secular legislature cannot decree bigamous marriages invalid when such marriages are recognized by the relevant religious laws, but can only operate against them through criminal law. Section 176 of the Penal Law, 1977, makes bigamy a criminal offence punishable by five years' imprisonment. Sections 181-182 prohibit forcing divorce upon one's wife with no judicial decree of divorce, and makes the arrangement of such prohibited marriages or divorces a criminal offence. Sections 179-180 provide exceptions for the rule against bigamy. Section 180 applies to all individuals whose religious affiliation is other than Jewish, and indicates that incapacitation of one's spouse or seven years' absence therefrom may justify marriage to another person. Section 179 applies only to Jewish people, providing immunity to a person whose second marriage was permitted by a rabbinical court's judgement that underwent the specific Halachic procedure to make it religiously valid.
360. Since religious law accommodates bigamous marriage, further legislative intervention must be made in particular areas of law where the interests of the two wives may conflict. Such accommodations were developed in response to certain population groups who immigrated to Israel. For example, the Successions Law, 1965 specifically states (in section 146) that when a man who dies was married to two women, both of them shall share in the estate, where ordinarily the estate is given to the sole wife of the deceased.
Strengthening and protecting the family
361. The basic premise of the Israeli law is that the primary obligation to support the members of a family lies with the family itself. This principle is anchored in the Legal Capacity and Guardianship Law, 1962, which defines the duties of parents and guardians. As the “natural guardians” of their minor children, parents have both a statutory obligation and a right to attend to their child's needs, including education and upbringing, vocational training, and maintenance of the child's property. Their guardianship also includes the right to custody of the child and the right to represent the child. These rights have been interpreted by the Israeli courts as “the right to fulfil their obligations”. (Full text of the law is attached in annex 2 to the present report.)
362. Nevertheless, the State recognizes its obligation to protect families whenever family members substantially fail to fulfil their responsibility. Various laws grant intervention powers to the authorities (at the municipal or national level), requiring judicial approval. These powers range from issuing specific instructions to the child's parent or guardian on how to care for the child to extracting the child from their custody and assuming responsibility for the child's care, whether temporarily or definitively in the form of an adoption order. Such main laws are the Youth (Care and Supervision) Law, 1960 and the Adoption of Children Law, 1981. (Full texts attached in annex 2 to the present report.)
363. In addition, various Israeli penal laws prescribe criminal sanctions against parents or other primary care-givers for abandonment and neglect, assault and molestation (including physical, emotional or sexual molestation), and set grounds for the courts to issue protection orders against a violent family member in the home of either the child or the spouse.
364. The primary consideration in all the above cases involving children is “the best interests of the child”. This concept lies at the core of a huge jurisprudence, too complex to be reviewed here. In general much weight is given by the courts to the professional opinion presented in written reports by welfare officers, who are trained social workers appointed under each law.
365. In addition to intervention powers to deal with acute crises, the Government attempts to facilitate and maintain the establishment of a family by means of various social programmes and economic benefits.
366. The main economic benefits granted by the State to aid families are part of the social security schemes provided by law on a universal basis to all families in Israel (these schemes are detailed in this report under article 9). Child allowances, designed to prevent a reduction in the standard of living of families that may result from the burden of raising additional children, provide tax relief and the payment of allowances through the social security system. Increments to benefit for dependent children are paid with old-age pensions, survivors' pensions, disability pensions, in-home care for the elderly. There are no situations in which families do not enjoy any benefit of assistance, or who do so to a significantly lesser degree than the majority of the population.
367. Special assistance to single-parent families are anchored in the Single Parent Law, 1992. (The full text of this law is attached in annex 2 to this report.) This law defines a “single parent” in broad terms applying to both women and men. The law entitles single parents to a special education grant, priority in vocational training programmes and in day-care facilities, and it raises the level of assistance in housing aid schemes. This is also provided for under the Maintenance of Income Law, 1980.
368. There exist other administrative programmes which aid families in need in various ways. For example, low-income working parents may apply to send their pre-school-aged children to government-supported day-care centres; the Health Ministry runs family health clinics in every city, which provide public counsellng, self-help groups, parenting classes, and primary health care for toddlers. Such programmes are based on need, whether implied in the qualification criteria of the programme or determined by means tests.
369. Israel also has an active voluntary sector, many of its organizations directed towards family and education-oriented projects.
370. There is a high level of interaction between the Government and the various voluntary bodies. The Government, in line with its policies, encourages volunteerism through support of existing voluntary organizations and involvement of volunteers in government agencies, and encourages residents to participate in the decision-making process on matters affecting their own neighbourhoods and communities.
371. The Government considers welfare services its responsibility, but in some service areas it relies on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to provide welfare services as well as some of the money that is required.
372. Institutions for children in Israel are supervised by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, under the provisions of the Supervision of Children's Institutions (Care Centers) Law, 1965. By-laws and regulations were drawn up by the Ministry regarding all aspects of the institutions' operations, e.g. structures, plant maintenance, supplies, personnel, professional services, etc. There is extensive supervision of all institutions for children up to the age of 12. All institutions, except for those for delinquent or mentally handicapped children, are run by NGOs. The institution determines the type of child it wants to receive.
373. An interministerial finance committee determines the level of financial support to be provided by the Government. At present, this support accounts for 85 per cent of the cost of the child in the institution. The NGOs must provide the additional 15 per cent. A special government building fund provides funding for the building of day-care centres in cooperation with the NGOs, turning them over to the municipal authority which in turn passes the centre on to the NGO for day-to-day operation. Negotiations take place annually regarding the Government's participation in child support in the day-care centres. Today the Government covers the cost of 75 per cent for each child and the NGO 25 per cent.
Equality of treatment
374. No sector of the population is excluded by law or administrative rule from receiving any of the above services. But many of the services available are restricted by budget, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has received complaints that the amount of resources allocated to the Jewish sector of the population outweighs the amount of money and resources presently directed at the non-Jewish sectors of the population.
375. Unfortunately, differential data regarding budget allocation to municipalities for social services relevant to the present Covenant are still not available.
376. Labour law protection for working women is a combination of a long-standing system of benefits, provided largely through the social insurance system, for supporting mothers and their families during pregnancy, birth, and post-natal care. The result is an efficient system of maternity protection.
Maternity leave and protection of pregnant working women
377. The Women's Employment Law, 1954, establishes the right of a woman to take a paid 12-week maternity leave. Under special circumstances, including sickness, the birth of more than one child or the need for the baby's hospitalization, the leave may be extended. For four months following her regular maternity leave, a woman who works full-time may leave work for one hour each day without affecting her salary. In addition, this law provides for a woman's right to extend her absence from work - without pay but also without concern that her employment may be terminated - for an additional period which is determined by how long she was employed before the leave.
378. A recent amendment to the said law allows for men to take half of the 12-week maternity period in place of the mother, even if his spouse is not employed. This amendment recognizes the legitimate desire of many fathers to bond with their infants during this crucial period, the shifting burden of parenting upon the male, and the success of women and their legitimacy in the workplace.
379. Maternity leave is mandatory and may be taken at any point after the middle of the seventh month of pregnancy. Both men and women are allowed to take leaves of absence, characterized as sick leave, while undergoing fertility treatments. Likewise, pregnant women are entitled to paid absences from work for routine medical examinations. When high-risk pregnancy causes inability to work, the woman is entitled to her salary from the National Insurance Institute and her seniority rights are protected.
380. This same law ensures the woman's job security. An employer cannot terminate an employee during her pregnancy; if an employee is dismissed during her pregnancy, the employer has committed a crime and is subject to prosecution, while the worker is reinstated. If the worker has not informed her employer of her pregnancy (this is not compulsory until the fifth month) and is terminated, she will be reinstated, but the employer is not guilty of committing a crime.
381. The prohibition on terminating employment has an exception. The Minister of Labor and Social Affairs has the authority to grant permission to an employer if he/she is satisfied that there is no link between termination of work and maternity. The department at the Ministry charged with control powers under the Women’s Employment Law also conducts the necessary inquiries for the purpose of deciding on these permission applications.
382. While the employer is not responsible for paying an employee’s salary while she is on maternity leave, the employer is legally bound to continue making payments into the employee's retirement fund and any other recognized employer-employee contribution-driven plans.
Coverage and benefits
383. The first benefit is free hospitalization for the baby's delivery. This hospitalization is covered as part of the basket of services in Israel's comprehensive National Health Insurance Law, 1995. The benefit is paid directly to the hospital. Costs are covered also in the event of a stillbirth.
384. After the baby has been born, the parents receive from the National Insurance Institute (NII) a maternity grant, to defray the costs of outfitting their home for the baby. This benefit is equal to 20 per cent of the average wage. In the event of multiple births, the sum rises significantly (see birth allowance below).
385. The maternity grant is paid to all residents or wives of residents, even if they gave birth outside of Israel, as well as to non-resident women working in Israel or wives of non-resident men working in Israel, provided they gave birth In Israel.
386. There is also a grant for adopting parents, equivalent to the maternity grant, based on the number of children under the age of 10 who were adopted on the same day.
387. If three or more children are delivered in the same birth, families receive a birth allowance for six months. The purpose is to alleviate the special costs incurred with multiple births. For the third child, the benefit is equal to 50 per cent of the average salary. For the fourth child, it equals 75 per cent and for the fifth (or more) it equals 100 per cent.
388. The maternity allowance (or vacation pay in the case of adopting parents) is paid to a working mother during her 12 weeks of legally mandated maternity leave. The benefit is equal to 100 per cent of the woman’s average salary during the previous three months, up to a ceiling, and is paid by the NII. This benefit is taxed and social insurance payments are deducted.
389. The birth protection allowance is meant for women who, on doctor's orders, must take a leave from work of over 30 days in order to successfully bring their baby to term. This benefit, which is 25 per cent of the average wage, is paid by the NII.
History and development
390. Maternity insurance was embodied in 1954 in the National Insurance Law, and was one of the first divisions of the National Insurance Institute. Maternity insurance was considered of utmost importance to the welfare of the family in general and to the working mother in particular.
391. The changes pertaining to maternity allowance which took place between 1954 and 1995 share a clear common denominator: the widening of the circle of women entitled to maternity allowance, both by changing the calculation of the qualifying period and by changing the definition of the entitled population. The rates of the allowance were not changed until 1995, when it was increased from 75 per cent of the woman's (gross) previous wages to 100 per cent of her (net) wages.
392. The main changes which occurred in the maternity grant since 1954 can be summed up as follows:
(a) 1955: the size of the maternity grant aimed at acquiring a layette in the case of a multiple birth was increased.
(i) Distinction was made within the maternity grant between the layette grant aimed at acquiring a layette and the hospitalization grant paid directly to the hospital, except in cases in which the birth took place in a hospital in which there was no payment arrangement with the NII (such as hospitals abroad). In such cases the mother submits receipts and is reimbursed, up to the amount of the grant determined by law. The layette grant is given as a cash payment directly to the mother by the hospital in which she gives birth;
(ii) A method for adjusting the maternity grant was determined: 20 per cent of the average wage for purposes of benefit payments in January every year, with additional adjustments reflecting cost-of-living increments. Thus, the real value of the maternity grant is maintained and anchored in law; its adjustment is automatic and not subject to the discretion of the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, as previously.
393. The birth allowance was added in 1986 within the framework of maternity insurance: the birth allowance is paid to a family in which three or more children were born in the same birth, of which three or more remained alive for a period of time determined by law, in order to help the family overcome the economic burden of a multiple birth. The risk pregnancy benefit was instituted in 1991. Free hospitalization for delivery prior to the enactment of the National Health Insurance Law in January 1994 was paid by the NII.
394. All of the above-mentioned maternity protections and benefits are granted to all citizens and residents of the State of Israel, regardless of race or religion. Only those who have not paid their social insurance dues for a minimum number of months in the two years preceding the child’s birth are not entitled to full financial benefits granted by the NII. There are no groups of women who do not enjoy any maternity protection whatsoever or who do so to a significantly lesser degree than the majority. (Additional information is provided in this report under article 9 of the Covenant - Social Security.)
395. The Youth Employment Law, 1953, prohibits employment of persons under the age of 15. During summer the minimum age drops to 14, but permission from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is required. Moreover, youngsters over the age of 15 who are still under the purview of the Compulsory Education Law may be employed only in accordance with the Apprentice Law, 1953. (Full texts of these two laws are attached in annex 1 to this report.) A labour contract with a person under minimum age is void, even with the consent of his/her parent or guardian.
396. According to official government data, about 30,000 young people aged 15-18 were legally employed in 1995. This figure represents 11 per cent of Israel youth. There are no accurate data describing the distribution of working youth according to sector or type of employment, nor are there data on the extent of employment of youth within the household. Youth on kibbutzim (collective farms) often work there during school vacations, largely in agriculture, service occupations or light industry. The number of youth in this group is small since the total percentage of people of all ages who reside on kibbutzism is less than 3 per cent of the country's population.
397. It is believed that there are a few tens of thousands of children employed illegally in Israel. Their employment is illegal either due to the children’s age or because they are working longer hours than the maximum permitted by law. Most of these children and youth are employed as physical labourers in outdoor markets and other temporary jobs. In 1994 the Israeli police established a unit for the enforcement of labour laws. This unit has made concerted efforts to enforce child labour laws.
398. Lately, the distribution of information on child labour laws to both youth and employers has increased. Printed materials have been prepared and distributed by voluntary organizations such as the National Center for the Child and the Union of Youth Workers, an organization created specifically to represent the rights of workers under the age of 19.
399. There are no accurate official data regarding the phenomenon of illegal employment. However, the common perception among government officials is that there has been a slight decrease in illegal child labour in the last two years. It is nonetheless clear that in order to reduce the instance of illegal child and youth labour, better enforcement is needed, as is better awareness of labour laws among children and employers.
400. Finally, legal provisions pertaining to special protection of children within the family, such as protection from neglect, child abuse of all sorts, etc., have been described in paragraphs 352-375 and are relevant in the present context also.
401. The right of everyone to enjoy an adequate standard of living is generally considered as obvious and is recognized under the Israeli legal system. This recognition is not embodied in one single legal text. Instead, there exist various legal entitlements and administrative measures aimed at securing everyone’s subsistence, which are described in this chapter. All together, these entitlements and measures embody a definite commitment on the part of the State to securing a decent standard of living for everyone.
402. Furthermore, one can say that the “right to basic needs”, as a coherent right standing on its own, is an emerging concept in the Israeli legal culture. There are a few signs to support this statement that should be briefly surveyed before going into the details of housing and food rights.
403. The most evident indication of the emergence of a constitutional right to basic needs is the already mentioned Basic Law: Social Rights Bill (1993). One should also recall the interpretation given to the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom (1992) in one of the Supreme Court President's books, according to which the right to basic needs is part of the constitutional right to human dignity (Barak 1994:416).
404. Also important in this context are various remarks made by the Israeli courts. The Supreme Court has dealt with the right to basic living conditions mainly in the context of providing minimal guarantees to those affected by the exercise of legal rights. One example of such a guarantee is the case of alimony and child support payments. The court has ruled that even when such payments can be normally withheld (e.g. for refusal of the recipient to respect the rights of the supporting party), this rule does not apply when the recipient lacks basic living needs:
C.A. 1741/93 Azoulai v. Azoulai, Takdin-Supreme, vol. 94 (2) 1784.
405. A similar problem has risen in the case of traffic accidents that deprive the victim of living resources before the completion of the legal proceedings. In order to alleviate this problem the legislator amended the Compensation for Traffic Accidents Victims Law 1975 and introduced the possibility of claiming intermediate compensations, on which the Supreme Court remarked:
C.A. 387/82 Karnit – Compensation for Traffic Accident Victims Fund v. Assido, P.D. vol. 40 (4) 213, 219.
406. In another case, the Supreme Court discussed the Judgment Execution Law, 1967, which limits the creditor's right of recovery, in light of the social conditions of the debtor:
C.A. 711/84 Israel Discount Bank Ltd. v. Fishman, P.D. vol. 41 (1) 369, 374-375
407. The Supreme Court addressed on several occasions the question of what are minimal standards of living in the context of imprisonment conditions, and held that:
H.C 221/80 Darwish v. The Prison Service, P.D. vol. 35 (1) 536, 538-40 [minority opinion, rejected on other grounds]
408. The above citations are not representative of a coherent and systematic judicial approach. Examples of disregard of socio-economic factors in judicial reasoning can also be found in Israeli jurisprudence. But these are encouraging signs when evaluated in the context of a growing awareness of social rights as fundamental or constitutional rights.
The current standard of living of Israel's population
Available data on living standard and poverty
(i) Standard of living
409. The following tables present the main available data up to this date on the standard of living in Israel.
HOUSEHOLDS, BY SOURCE
PER URBAN HOUSEHOLD AND BY CHARACTERISTICS OF HOUSEHOLD HEAD
INCOME PER STANDARD PERSON AND BY CHARACTERISTICS OF HOUSEHOLD HEAD
OF RESIDENCE OF HOUSEHOLD HEAD
AND CONTINENT OF BIRTH OF HOUSEHOLD HEAD, AND
persons per room and continent of birth
up to 17 - total
Incl. Continent of birth not known. HOUSEHOLDS, BY HOUSING DENSITY, SIZE OF
HOUSEHOLD AND ROOMS IN DWELLING
410. Poverty data in Israel have been systematically collected and published since the early 1970s by the National Insurance Institute (NII). The annual report on poverty submitted to the Government receives wide coverage by the media, raising the major issues on the public agenda as well as helping the Government reassess its policy to reduce poverty.
411. The definition of poverty adopted by the NII is a relative one, by which a family is considered poor when its standard of living falls considerably below the average. Although a family's standard of living is a multidimensional concept, expressed through various aspects (income, housing, health, education, etc.) the poverty measure is based on income data only, which are available on an ongoing basis. The poverty line in Israel is defined as 50 per cent of the net median income, adjusted to family size.
412. According to the NII 1993 report, 16 per cent of all families have net incomes below the poverty lines, with the average net income of a poor family being 75 per cent of the poverty line. Transfer payments, especially NII benefits, play a crucial role in reducing poverty and income disparities. In the absence of transfer payments (mainly NII benefits), 34 per cent of all families would be classified as poor, implying that transfers have reduced the poverty incidence by more than one half. Although transfer payments, mainly to low-income groups, contribute significantly to the reduction of poverty among the elderly, the non-employed and large families, poverty is still more frequent among these groups: almost one fifth of the elderly, one third of the large families and one half of the non-employed are poor. Poverty is also relatively high among non-Jewish families – more than one third are poor.
413. These data should be read in conjunction with the following tables, presenting the resources and their use, including GNP, GDP, per capita GNP and GDP, private consumption expenditure over the years as well as GNP by deciles.
414. One of the factors contributing to the extent of poverty in Israel is the wide variation in family size. A significant percentage of the Israeli population has four or more children and a large percentage of these children grow up in these families. This means that with a given inequality in the wage structure, more poverty and inequality are generated because of the differences in family size. Family size differences are highly correlated with ethnic background. Large families are much more widespread in the Arab population and among certain sub-groups within the Jewish population. This serves to exacerbate inequalities among ethnic groups and the relative concentration of poverty within these groups.
415. Poverty among children and women is of special concern to policy makers: 20 per cent of all children in Israel live in families whose income is below the poverty line. Poverty among families headed by women is more frequent than among families headed by men. Almost one third of the families with children headed by women are poor, compared with 15 per cent of families with children headed by men.
EXPENDITURE - GRAND TOTAL (2 + 6)
ISRAELI HOUSEHOLDS (3 - 4 + 5)
domestic market - total
(iii) Physical quality of life index
416. Israel still does not have a physical quality of life index. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs plans to create one, with the help of the National Council for Diminishing Social Gaps and War on Poverty (described below).
The right to adequate food
417. The right to adequate food is fully recognized by governmental and non-governmental organizations in Israel. Food provision for indigent people is part of the social assistance offered by the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, the National Insurance Institute, the municipalities and various voluntary organizations (e.g. ESHEL - The Association for Planning and Developing Services for the Aged in Israel). This right is implemented in two ways: indirectly, by securing a sufficient basic income, and directly, by either supplying food or food-related services.
418. Income for subsistence is provided by the various social security schemes under the National Insurance Law - described in this report under article 9 - supplemented by the Assurance of Income Law 1980.
419. The Income Maintenance Law, 1980 basically provides a “safety net”: whoever lacks the defined minimal income, taking into account income from most social security branches, has the right to receive from the NII a monthly allowance up to the allowed minimum. It may be said that anyone in vital need is entitled under the law, except for a person capable of working who refuses to do so (i.e. refusal of a suitable occupation proposed via the Employment Service). The full text of the law is attached in annex A to this report.
420. The Assurance of Income Law does not apply to new immigrants, income maintenance for whom is provided by the Immigration and Absorption Ministry according to the Absorption Basket Law 1994 and the Ministry's detailed administrative directives.
421. The Welfare Services Law 1958 defines the State's duty, together with the municipalities, to provide assistance to residents in need. Regulations issued under this law define the term “in need” for this purpose to include all sorts of personal needs. As to the content of this duty, the law basically refers to the rules issued by the director general of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. These rules cover all personal social services. Mention should be made here of the “special needs programme”. Under this programme, social workers in local welfare services may grant assistance needed for provision of particular vital items like clothes, blankets, heaters and similar basic supplies. This discretionary power is used until reaching the limit of the budget set for this purpose.
422. Special assistance is provided to those in need of special dietary food due to medical conditions (metabolic disorders, celiac disease, etc.). This assistance is provided by Department of Nutrition in the Ministry of Health in the form of subsidies.
423. Young children and babies are tracked by the Family Health Centers stationed in every neighbourhood throughout the country. Public health nurses, all trained in nutrition, run these centres. In each region and district there are Public Health Services Headquarters, where public health dietitians are part of the team. They are involved in almost all the nutritional aspects of the population, including senior citizens and the very old.
424. Special efforts are aimed at developing health promotion nutrition projects, tailored for the special needs of each community and in consideration of the local characteristics (culture, age, background, needs, etc.).
425. The Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) has conducted several surveys concentrating on the living conditions in Israel. Some of these provide valuable information on nutrition or have implications for nutrition policy:
CALORIES AND NUTRIENTS PER CAPITA PER DAY
427. The main data from the latest household expenditure survey were produced above. These surveys, collected every four or five years, have provided data needed for the establishment of nutrition policy: food subsidies and price control, nutrition education and promotion programmes, etc. Six special surveys were done in the past, and six more are ongoing. These surveys are either cross-sectional, small-scaled, or targeted to suspected vulnerable groups. Additionally, there is an ample number of surveys done by academia in different parts of the country, or in diverse sub-groups of the population. These surveys used different methodologies, conducted at different times, and provide non-generalizable information. Therefore, they cannot be directly compared, or lead to a sound national nutrition policy.
428. It is necessary to look beyond the overall per capita aggregate in order to determine how the nutritionally vulnerable groups fare. In order to overcome the lack of data regarding geographical areas, sub-populations etc., a first National Nutrition Survey (NNS) is planned. The NNS will furnish information on food and nutrition intakes, dietary practices, physical activity, smoking habits, anthropometric data, socio-economic status, health status, and nutrition knowledge and attitudes of a representative sample of 4,500 Israelis, aged 12 to 75. The project is the largest and most comprehensive food and nutrition survey of Israel's population ever undertaken. Preparations started in 1997 and data collection will take place continuously from April 1998 to May 1999. This survey will provide information regarding indigent populations and vulnerable groups, and a database for public health policy decisions.
429. On the basis of the available data only the following comments as to potential areas of concern can be made:
430. The Ministry of Agriculture deals with planning of the production of the various categories of agricultural produce and its supply to the population. The Ministry deals with agricultural development and economic consolidation of rural settlements, as well as the development and allocation of the State's water resources, and responsibility for its lands. The following is a brief survey of the Ministry's activities relevant to the present report.
431. The Authority for Settlement, Agriculture and Rural Planning and Development deals with the gamut of problems of agriculture planning in the short and long term, making forecasts of requirements and strategic market research; allocation of growing and production quotas in the various branches; preparation of multi-year programmes, development programmes for agricultural infrastructure, regional plants and settlement patterns; conducting of research in agricultural and rural fields; referral of international projects in the sphere of agriculture and development of weak areas. This sphere of activity also includes contact with international institutions abroad and referral of the agricultural produce of neighbouring areas.
432. The Division for Land Preservation and Drainage is in charge of the development of regional and national economic plans for the utilization of waste water and preservation of the land resources, run-off water and natural vegetation, as well as for drainage and protection from flash floods of agricultural and built-up areas. To this end, the Division collects and analyses the natural data and determines the means for implementing the programmes. The Division is responsible for 42 drainage authorities and eight pasture authorities, which implement the regional and national plans and, through land preservation cells in the districts, instructs and guides farming settlements in the implementation of plans for local drainage and reservoirs. The Division undertakes land and pasturing surveys, land preservation planning research on regional and local drainage, reservoirs and pastures, and applied research (carried out at erosion research stations). The basis for every land preservation and pasturing programme is the land survey and the vegetation survey.
433. The Agricultural Research Administration coordinates the activity of research institutes and agricultural farms throughout the country, and deals with a wide range of subjects, from promotion of new products to the adjustment of mechanization and agricultural technology. The Administration deals also with development of products that can withstand disease and pests and development of innovative storage suitable for today's produce.
434. The Instruction and Professional Service helps farmers with instruction, planning and development of rural settlements. Advice and growing directives are given for the utilization of production elements according to each region’s climatic and agricultural character. The Service coordinates the range of actions in the fields of instruction, development and professional promotion in all branches and activities of the agricultural settlement. The professional units of the Service advise the senior echelons of the Ministry in policy formulation, and direct and guide the instruction units in the districts, at the regional instruction offices and in the field services. Ten instruction units in the districts and the offices deal with agricultural instruction and advice, arrange field days and demonstrations, study days, short courses and, of course and primarily, instruction for the farmer at his farm. In conjunction with the other units of the Ministry, special emphasis can be placed on activities to promote exports, replace imports and offer instruction to young settlements in accordance with the trends and work aims of the Ministry.
435. The Agricultural Investments Administration encourages capital investments in agriculture, promotes exports of agricultural produce and works for utilization of the natural conditions and experience latent in the agricultural sector. The administration was set up in order to operate the Encouragement of Capital Investment in Agriculture Law, 1980. The Government appoints the director of the Administration (at the recommendation of the Minister of Agriculture) and members of the Administration are appointed by the Ministers of Agriculture and Finance. The administration approves plans in accordance with the planning principles that the Ministry of Agriculture formulates for each budget year, after a branch, economic and professional examination. The law works to encourage investments in two ways: (a) a grant of 40 per cent of the investment; (b) income tax concessions for all the approved programmes - expressed by accelerated depreciation and an income tax ceiling of up to 30 per cent for companies and for an individual who is not a company who keeps separate two-sided books of account for the enterprise; 15 per cent for recipients of dividends from the companies. The concessions are given for the first five profitable years of the project but for not later than the twelfth year from the date on which approval was given for the programme. Farmers with land, water and a production quota are eligible to submit an application for approval of a programme.
436. The Division for Protection of Flora prevents the penetration of new diseases through control over imports and quarantining plants. It issues certificates of health for agricultural produce according to the requirements of the importing countries. It monitors diseases and their incidence and prepares lists of where they are found in the country. It locates and destroys new diseases that have entered the country before they become established here, and fights diseases that have entered and prevents their spread and consolidation. It also licenses and registers the supervision over pesticides for agricultural use and the examination of pesticide remnants; manages a computerized information centre in conjunction with the Agricultural Investments Administration; supervises plant reproductive material and seeds being traded; approves improved seeds; marks and registers mother trees and plants; supervises agricultural produce for export (fruit, vegetables and flowers); supervises and licenses fodder and additives to animal fodder; provides services for farmers for testing for diseases and their prevention and testing of pesticide preparations and fodder testing; and conducts applied research on subjects associated with the foregoing activities.
437. The Veterinary Services see to the health of livestock and other animals. The Veterinary Institute is responsible for health supervision and prevention of diseases and their spread.
The right to adequate housing
438. Throughout its 50-year history, Israel has maintained a steadfast commitment to the goal of a decent home in a suitable living environment. Although no comprehensive legislation mandates this objective, such as is the case in other countries, all the coalitions that have formed the Government since the establishment of the State have consistently sought to achieve this goal through various administrative programmes.
439. The well-founded objective of adequate housing for all citizens has been expressed differently during the last five decades – both because of the changing scope of housing need and because the variable conditions have led to modified definitions of need and to various forms of government involvement in housing provision.
The “hands on - hands off” policies of government involvement
440. A historical overview of housing policy in Israel indicates a steady decline in government involvement and an increasing reliance on the private sector. This trend has been disrupted from time to time, especially during periods of increased immigration that markedly affected the housing cycle, or when greater emphasis was placed on achieving other national objectives such as population dispersal to peripheral regions.
441. During the first 20 years after independence (1948-1967), national housing policy was implemented by what may be characterized as the State's “mighty hand”. During this period, more than two thirds of all dwelling units built were contracted by the Government, as opposed to private developers. Government agencies under the aegis of the Ministry of Construction and Housing (hereinafter “MCH”) were mandated with taking charge of the completed units and renting them to eligible families, primarily new immigrants from Europe and North Africa.
442. Over the subsequent 20 years, when the State exerted what may be termed a “guiding hand”, about one third of all new construction was government contracted, with the housing market being influenced by means of various government-initiated supply and demand mechanisms. The supply of government-owned units was still increasing and the eligible population groups for public rental units was expanded to include non-immigrant families living in substandard or overcrowded conditions.
443. Beginning in the mid-1980s, government housing policy was characterized by what may be termed a “disappearing hand” – striving to achieve Adam Smith's “invisible hand” – as the State increasingly relied on market forces and operated within the framework of a privatization policy. Concomitant with this policy, the national Government undertook a campaign to sell publicly owned rental units to the tenants. The outcome of this policy was a reduction of publicly owned stock by almost 30 per cent.
444. In the first half of the 1990's, a surge of immigrants from the former Soviet Union resulted in a population increase of approximately 12 per cent and a fourfold rise in annual housing demand. The privatized orientation experienced difficulties in meeting the housing demands of these new arrivals, especially since the immigrants represented a “needy” population group and thus a less profitable sector of the market. As a result, greater governmental incentives were required to stimulate the market to achieve the needed levels of construction. Significantly, these units were built to be sold and, at least initially, were not designated to be rented to individuals or families eligible for public housing.
445. This brief period may be termed the “outstretched hand” by those who justify the intensified involvement, or the “meddling hand” by those who disdain the form of government intervention that was adopted, and the concomitant effects on the housing market.
Housing situation in Israel
446. The first and foremost source of data relevant to this part of the present report is based on a Family Expenditure Survey conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics in 1992/93.
447. The existing data do not always distinguish between different population sub-groups. It is expected that more detailed information on housing conditions of various groups will be available in 1998, when the decennial census results are published.
448. It should be stressed that the MCH conducts periodic surveys of housing needs for different groups. These studies, conducted over the years, have focused on a variety of potentially vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, Arabs, single parents, immigrants, young couples, discharged soldiers, families living in development towns or in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, low-income households, physically challenged persons, etc. The results serve as the basis for calibrating the various parameters and adjusting eligibility criteria for all MCH housing assistance programmes. Since these groups may include both needy and resourceful households, the MCH programmes integrate the socio-economic characteristics of these groups without necessarily formulating a specific programme exclusively for a particular population sub-group.
449. The following is a short summary of the main findings of the Family Expenditure Survey, supplemented by additional data, when available.
450. The majority of Israel's households own their own home. In 1991 almost 72 per cent of all households were owner-occupiers. Almost one quarter (23.9 per cent) were renters, while the remaining 4 per cent lived in a variety of arrangements, especially where housing was provided within the context of work. Among the renter households, 2.1 per cent were classified as “protected” tenants under rent control legislation. Renter households may also be classified according to the type owner: 6.7 per cent of the rental households are rented from publicly owned units and 13.9 per cent from privately owned units. A breakdown of these data by deciles is included in the table shown below.
451. Through financial assistance programmes (described further below) 65 per cent of all new households purchase their own apartment within the first three years after marriage, and 91 per cent within 10 years of marriage. Thus young couples (married during the period 1982-1993) achieved the following ownership rates:
452. Of the new immigrants who arrived in Israel between 1989 and 1994 from the former Soviet Union, nearly 70 per cent own their housing today:
453. The data based on the family expenditure survey of 1992/93 indicate that the expenditure for housing for the average household was 19.48 per cent of overall consumption expenditures. The average outlay for the lowest two income deciles was 17.41 per cent, compared with 21.15 per cent for the two highest deciles. See a further breakdown in the following two tables.
MAINTENANCE OF DWELLING
per owned dwelling
CONTINENT OF BIRTH OF HEAD OF HOUSEHOLD
454. The level of facilities in dwelling units is an important component of household living conditions. About 71 per cent of all households lived in dwelling units equipped with one toilet, while 28 per cent lived in units with two toilets or more. Similarly 75 per cent of all households lived in units with a bath while almost 25 per cent lived in dwelling units equipped with a shower only. These data refer to a survey of all recognized cities and townships, but did not include “illegal settlements” (dealt with further below). More comprehensive information covering these sites will be available next year, following the processing of the most recent decennial census information.
455. Housing density, as measured by the number of persons per room, has declined over the years as the size of households has decreased and the average dwelling unit increased. The 1992/93 survey reveals an average of 1.1 persons per room (kitchen and bathroom not included). At the upper end of the density scale 12 per cent of all households live with between 1.5 and 1.99 persons per room, while an additional 11 per cent of households have more than two persons per room.
456. According to recent data for the year 1996 the average number of persons per room is under 1 per cent for Jews and stands at 1.62 per cent for non-Jews:
AND POPULATION GROUP
(v) Public housing eligibility
457. Approximately 120,000 housing units (7.5 per cent of total households in Israel) are administered by public housing companies. Two such companies maintain units in numerous cities and towns throughout the country, while the remaining are primarily jointly owned national-municipal companies. Eligibility for publicly owned rental units is set by criteria described below. The most recent official figures indicate that approximately 2,000 families are on waiting lists for public housing.
458. Out of a population of over 5.8 million only about 3,000 persons are estimated to be “homeless”. Social service agencies at the national level under the aegis of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, working in conjunction with the local municipalities, have provided assistance to approximately 1,200 homeless persons since 1990. The Ministry's annual budgetary appropriations for addressing the needs of homeless persons amounts to NIS 4.5 million ($1.3 million). Moreover, the various assistance programmes, described further in this chapter, typically render homelessness in Israel a temporary situation.
459. The special situation of two particularly vulnerable sub-groups need further elaboration: new immigrants from Ethiopia and Bedouins living in illegal settlements.
460. New immigrants from Ethiopia. There are today in Israel a total of about 57,000 Ethiopian Jews, who immigrated in two major waves in the mid-1980s and in 1991. They have large families and about 60 per cent of them are under age 18. There is a high percentage of single-parent families (about 25 per cent), about three times the national rate. Their integration into Israeli society has raised some major challenges.
461. The immigrants who came in the 1980s were settled directly into local communities in which they, for the most part, established permanent residence based on the provision of public housing. By the time the 1991 wave arrived, the public housing stock in the central cities had been used up. It should be taken into account that at that time there were already some 300,000 new immigrants from the CIS in the country. The newcomers from Ethiopia were at first housed in hotels and various absorption centres. Later, they were provided with caravans in 22 mobile home sites. Some 6,930 households from the CIS and 4,920 households from Ethiopia were housed in caravan sites. Efforts to provide these immigrants with permanent housing have proven effective, as shown in the following table:
463. Occupants of illegal settlements (mostly Bedouins). The right to decent housing is recognized in Israel within the legal framework of town planning and local government organization. However, this does not mean having the right to live anyplace one chooses. There exist in Israel about 53,000 people, mostly Bedouins, living in settlements of all sizes, which do not fit in the urban and rural planning schemes designed by the relevant authorities under Israeli law. Such settlers consistently refuse governmental aid proposals for resettling in appropriate locations. The following is a detailed account of the legal and factual situation regarding illegal settlements in Israel.
464. The Bedouins started settling in the land of Israel in the fifth century A.D. This process continued, most notably during the time of the Ottoman Administration over the region, and throughout the period of the British Mandate, preceding the establishment of the State of Israel. This gradual process has continued up to contemporary times.
465. A great deal of the lands which the Bedouins claim are of the legal type named muwat, i.e. land that is not privately owned or possessed. The relevant laws regarding muwat lands were implemented in 1858, in accordance with paragraph 6 of the Ottoman statute over this area. Paragraph 103 of the same law determines that the possession of the muwat land which is not privately owned, is conditioned by an initial permit.
466. During the British Mandate similar laws were enacted. Thus, the Land Ordinance (Mewat) 1921 states:
467. As for cultivating land without a formal permit before the publishing of this Ordinance, it was possible to formalize a legal right to the land by filling out a request with the Land Clerk within two months of the Ordinance's publication. Following the publication of the Ordinance, the Bedouins did not register the lands they were inhabiting. A great many have no written documents proving their rights. Nevertheless, both the Ottoman Administration and the British Mandate officials decided not to evacuate the Bedouin inhabitants from the lands they effectively were inhabiting.
468. Indeed, traditional Bedouin law is significantly different from that implemented by the Ottoman Administration, including different ways of proof with no need to issue formal written documents. However, Israel's law of land rights does require written documents for any land transaction.
469. Nevertheless, the Government finds it hard to meet the basic needs of the people, being obliged to provide services, such as water, electricity, roads, health care, and sanitary and educational facilities, without prior and proper planning.
470. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, a national plan for handling the Bedouin illegal settlement problem in the south had been formed. According to the plan, seven urban towns were to be established for the entire Bedouin population in the south. The Bedouins willing to settle there were to be compensated properly and to be transferred to the towns. Today, around 40,000 people who accepted the national plan reside in those towns. Unfortunately, more than 50 per cent of the Bedouin population still live in illegal settlement locations. Their main demand is to be permitted to form rural settlements, where they could practise traditional habitation.
471. Currently, a Planning and Building Law (Reformation - Demolishing Orders) Bill is being debated in the Knesset. The main goal of this proposed legislation is a total ban on the implementation of any demolishing order in any illegal settlement until a proper solution has been found for the inhabitants.
472. Israel acknowledges that it cannot impose upon the entire Bedouin population an urban solution which would be contrary to its wish and traditional way of life. Hence, in 1995, the Minister of Housing instructed that the existing policy be changed. The Minister developed a new strategy aimed at promoting a better quality of life for the entire Bedouin population while maintaining the traditional Bedouin way of life. Investments in the Bedouin sector have increased from NIS 50 million in 1989, to NIS 138 million in 1993-1995. New guidelines issued by the Housing Minister directed that investments in infrastructure should be on a level comparable to that in Jewish settlements.
473. According to the new guidelines:
(a) The Ministries of Interior and Housing are to plan two or three new urban towns for 20,000 people. Their living would be earned from agriculture and sheep;
(b) Agricultural settlements - two to three new agricultural settlements are to be established, each accommodating 600 families;
(c) Ten agricultural farms are to be planned for around 5,000 people;
(d) Five to seven shepherds' settlements for around 100 families are to be planned.
474. In 1996 a special Knesset commission examined this issue. One of its recommendations was to find a compromise; whereas on the one hand some of the illegal settlements would be recognized, on the other hand, proper compensation for concession of the land would be granted. The commission also agreed that aside from providing compensation, the towns where the Bedouins would reside should meet their needs and characteristics. Resources for additional settlements will be allocated and the number, location and distribution of their inhabitants stipulated. Furthermore, it also recommended that arbitrators be appointed for rapid processing of Bedouin claims, and that Bedouin settlements be connected to electricity and sewage systems more rapidly.
475. The Supreme Court has addressed on several occasions the unique problem of illegal settlement and inadequate housing conditions in the Bedouin sector in Israel, and has expressed its approval of the government policy to encourage the transfer of Bedouins into permanent settlements built on State lands. The following citation sums up the problem from a legal point of view:
H.C. 528/88 Avitan v. Israel Land Administration, P.D. 43 (4) 297, 300-304
476. Data on settlements in the south. The Bedouin population is spread throughout the northern part of the Negev, mostly in the Sayig area covering 1.5 million dunam. Some 40 per cent of the area is being utilized by the Bedouin for habitation, pasture and agriculture. The total Bedouin population in the south is estimated today to be 100,000 people. About 50,000 live in “illegal” settlements. The yearly natural growth of this population is about 5.6 per cent, at this rate the total Bedouin population in the south will number 120,000 by the year 2000. It is worthwhile noting that the total population of Israel is some 5.8 million people, meaning that the number of inhabitants living in “illegal” settlements in the southern part of the country is less than 1 per cent of the total Israeli population.
477. The “illegal” settlements are excluded from the formal population survey. There are no updated and exact data regarding the size of the population or its composition. Nevertheless, in 1991 the Ministry of Interior conducted a survey to evaluate the size of the population and other demographic data. According to the survey there are 108 tribes divided into several settlements. The total number of temporary settlements is estimated to be 1,213. The total number of housing units in the settlements is estimated to be 9,273. According to these data, the population in the area totals a minimum of 46,000 and a maximum of 93,000 inhabitants (calculated at five people per housing unit minimum, 10 people per housing unit maximum). In addition there are some 64 small settlement points (less than 50 housing units per settlement) with 1,350 housing units, and 40 large settlement points (more than 50 housing units per settlement) with 7,923 housing units. Average density for small settlements is 21 housing units per settlement. Average density for large settlements is 192 housing units per settlement.
478. Data on settlements in the north. The number of Bedouin in the northern part of Israel is estimated to be 38,000 people. Of them the number of people in illegal settlements is 3,000.
479. Prospects for the future. In light of the principle of equality, Israel cannot accept a wide range of illegal housing in the Bedouin settlements. Nevertheless, the Government acknowledges the fact that illegal building in this case is done out of necessity. An effort is being made to reduce the implementation of demolition orders until a permanent solution can be found. Since the beginning of the 1990s there is an ongoing process of accepting the claims of the Bedouin representative organizations.
480. Nine of the 40 settlements legalization - eight were legalized during the years 1995-1996 (government decisions Nos. 4377, dated 14 December 1994; 4569, dated 3 January 1995; and 206, dated 24 December 1995). Today, the administrative planning for the settlements is approaching completion. Government decision No. 206 determined that consultations would continue over the ninth locality.
481. Consultations over other small illegal settlements - mostly comprised of single families - are continuing out of a commitment to the late Prime Minister Rabin's declaration that the Government favoured the integration of smaller illegal settlements into larger legal ones, adopting one of the following alternatives: keeping the rights to their agricultural land, substituting lands, receiving compensation for the lands. In May 1996, the Government also decided on a special allocation of NIS 5 million for providing infrastructure to the newly recognized settlements.
482. The Attorney-General took it upon himself on 15 June 1997 to call upon the Ministry of Interior to find creative solutions to speed up the planning process regarding those settlements which have been legalized, so that basic services as water, electricity, education and so on could be provided soon. As to the other settlements, the Attorney-General decided to urge the Prime Minister to establish an interministerial committee to coordinate the various current governmental activities, with clear instructions to be more sensitive to the humanitarian aspect of the problem. The Attorney-General’s main suggestion was to tackle the problem on a practical level, looking for ad hoc solutions, taking into consideration distinctions between old and new homes, small and large settlements, whether houses were placed on already planned lands, etc.
Overview of current housing assistance programmes
483. The Ministry of Construction and Housing (MCH) utilizes various policy tools aimed at creating an adequate supply of affordable housing that meets the needs of the country's various population groups. The Ministry's NIS 10 billion ($2.9 billion) budget covers the entire housing production process from planning and land allocation, via construction and infrastructure provision, to mortgage financing and public housing. The overall strategy is an enabling one whereby the Government makes resources available both on the supply side and on the demand side to provide the means for various types of households to purchase housing.
(i) Supply-side policies
484. The MCH undertakes a variety of measures aimed at increasing the supply of housing. These measures include:
Statutory planning of new cities, towns and neighbourhoods;
Land tenders housing, out of State-owned lands;
485. Land use falls under the purview of the Planning and Building Law 1965. This law establishes a three-tiered system of statutory bodies and plans at the national, district and local levels. National plans are formulated by the National Planning and Building Board and approved by the Government; district plans are prepared by six District Planning Committees and approved by the National Board; and local plans are prepared by Local Planning Boards or by private entrepreneurs and approved at the local or district levels depending on the scope and complexity of the plan. Building permits and inspection of construction to ensure compliance with the local code is administered by local planning committees. The full text of this law is attached in annex A to this report.
486. Further mention should be made of land tenders for housing. In 1996 the MCH and the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) issued a variety of tenders for land planned for some 46,000 dwelling units. These tenders include: “Lowest Price to the Consumer”, in which competition among builders focuses on marketing the finished units to eligible families at the lowest per metre price; “Cooperative Housing” built in conjunction with municipalities for eligible households; “Net Housing” in which the Government coordinates between a contractor, selected by competitive bid, and eligible families who have been selected by lottery; as well as the traditional regular bids for land without any limitations set on price or eligibility criteria. In all cases, the land offered for tender has a site plan approved by the various statutory planning bodies. Furthermore, the land is serviced with residential infrastructure provided either by the MCH, the ILA or a relevant municipal agency.
(ii) Demand-side assistance
487. The MCH provides demand-side housing assistance in a variety of forms. These include:
Mortgages - approximately 50,000 subsidized mortgages annually;
Rent supplements - approximately 140,000 rent supplements monthly;
Public housing - approximately 7,000 new tenants annually.
488. Before providing further details on each form of assistance, it is important to note their common principles:
(a) Building a partnership between the individual and the State in solving housing problems: the assistance is conditioned on the individual’s financial participation, according to his/her needs and resources;
(b) Leaving the choice to the individual as to the preferred solution of the available assistance schemes;
(c) Defining qualifications for assistance and the level thereof according to objective criteria;
(d) Providing clear information on the various existing privileges, in order to minimize the level of an individual's dependence on the authorities;
(e) Granting the services within a framework of specialized agencies, such as mortgage banks and public housing corporations. The goal of the MCH is to concentrate on policy-making, allocating resources, delineating rules for achieving its goals and supervising performance.
(iii) Mortgage assistance
489. Mortgages are provided for the acquisition of housing (first- or second-hand), building one's own home, or apartment enlargement. In 1996 more than 52,000 government-sponsored mortgages were provided to the various categories of eligible households, 90 per cent of whom were first-time home-owners. Most of the subsidies for the loans are financed by the national budget. In 1995 over 96 per cent of the loans were financed by the Government; the remaining 3.5 per cent were financed and backed by private banks, with a government subsidy to cover the difference between the market interest rate and the special interest rate for such loans. The overall budget for these loans was in 1996 approximately NIS 6 million ($1.7 million), which represents 3.4 per cent of the 1996 total national budget.
490. The central precondition for eligibility for mortgage assistance is to be a “non-homeowner”: this term applies to a household in which neither spouse is currently or previously a homeowner (retainer of property rights in an apartment or house) nor has received in the past governmental assistance for housing. Non-homeowners are then divided into several groups, according to their status (immigrant/non-immigrant) and their family status (singles, couples, single-parent families). The assistance level is defined by different parameters that vary among the different groups (i.e. years of marriage, number of children, size of original family, etc.). In general, these parameters imply situations of socio-economic need and are aimed at quantifying such needs (every parameter determines a certain amount of points, which add up to determine the level of assistance). For the Young Couples Program, for example, the number of children and the number of siblings of both spouses have been found to serve as an indirect measure of equity accumulation, reflecting the local pattern in which parents often help their children in making the initial down-payment for housing.
491. Further differentiation may be made in exceptional cases on the basis of a “severity test” which is determined according to the extent of distress, its length, the size of the family, etc. Finally, the Families of Single-Parent Law and the Absorption of Discharged Soldiers Law 1994 prescribes an increase in the level of assistance to these two specific sectors of the population, also assuming the existence of increased needs. The final, and important, criterion of level of assistance is the geographic site chosen for the realization of the mortgage assistance. The country is divided in four zones, depending on the governmental preferences and based on geo-political considerations. Development towns, for example, are usually included in the zone where the level of assistance is the greatest. As a general rule, assistance in peripheral areas is greater than that in the centre of Israel.
492. In exceptional cases an appeal against refused requests for assistance can be filed to a local Housing Assistance Committee, composed of representatives of governmental and municipal housing officials. A district Housing Assistance Committee exists as a higher appeal instance. Finally, there exists in the MCH headquarters a Central Appeal Committee, which is given discretion to grant assistance in deviation from the rules, in order to address particular and unusual problems.
493. In the last decade there has been a significant growth in the rate of young Israeli couples that have exercised their right to subsidized mortgages. Available data enable comparison between the years 1984-1986 and 1994-1996 and show an average growth of about 40 per cent - from 37 per cent to over 51 per cent. The most dramatic growth of mortgage realization is among the Arab population (680 per cent), and the Druze population (about 59 per cent).
494. Other specialized programmes for mortgage assistance include:
Single-parent - for single parent households;
Immigrants - for new immigrants, especially from the CIS and Ethiopia;
Elderly - for those of retirement age;
Singles - for single-person households;
495. Single-parent families. The level of assistance to this group is relatively higher than for most non-homeowners. The Single-Parent Families Law 1992 was enacted in recognition of the fact that this group is especially vulnerable and the chances of a single parent (usually a single mother) purchasing housing are of the lowest. Recently, a special increase in assistance was added for single-parent families which have seniority as such of over five years. The mortgage rates for this group approaches the rate of the highest levels of couples assistance, i.e. who reach these levels after a longer period. The following table illustrates the form and level of mortgage assistance for this group:
sing. fam. + child
sing.fam. + 0-3 child
sing. fam. + 0.3 child
496. Singles. Singles over the age of 27 are entitled to assistance with mortgages for housing purchase only. The level of assistance is determined according to age, while individuals over the age of 35 are entitled to almost the same assistance level which is granted to couples. Recently there has been an improvement for individuals over the age of 45, both by raising the level of assistance itself and by increasing the portion which is a conditional grant.
497. The elderly. In general, an elderly person is an individual over the age of 65. A woman can be considered elderly by age 60. At certain assistance levels, elderly persons without children can get the same amounts as families with children.
498. Immigrants. Housing assistance is crucial to Israel’s policy of encouraging immigration. Most new immigrants lack a stable financial basis and need some time to obtain a steady and remunerative employment. Hence the assistance made available to new immigrants, which is higher than to most of the non-immigrant groups. Entitlement for assistance as an immigrant is nevertheless basically limited to seven years, after which he/she is considered as a non-immigrant. Concerning new immigrants from Ethiopia, in light of their rather unique situation, there are special criteria which further raise the level of mortgages up to over NIS 365,000, of which about 90 per cent is a grant, with a special initial monthly return of NIS 157. (For comparison, see the table presented above relating to assistance to single parents.)
499. Substitution or enlargement of residence. Although most assistance schemes are intended for “non-homeowners”, there are also programmes aimed at solving acute housing problems of homeowners. Improving housing conditions is sometimes vital, such as for health or safety reasons, overcrowding and other hardship conditions. Assistance is offered in such cases to people in need, based on established socio-economic criteria. A main scheme of such assistance exists in the context of Project Renewal, which designates disadvantaged neighbourhoods, establishes a decision-making process designed to empower their residents, and allocates resources for a variety of projects, including improvement of housing conditions. Another important criteria to be mentioned here is over-crowded housing. Assistance to solve problems of overcrowding is available for households with more than 2.2 persons per room or when the apartment's size is too small relative to the number of persons living in it:
(iv) Rent supplements
502. This programme is aimed to provide assistance in renting private-market apartments. The population groups that are eligible for rent supplements are primarily vulnerable groups. These include: new immigrants, who receive a graduated stipend that decreases over a five-year period; single-parent households - for three years; households whose income falls below a minimum and who exercise their full employment potential; couples who have accumulated 1,400 points or more for three years (according to the criteria of eligibility for mortgage assistance to non-homeowners, as described above), regardless of income. When a means test applies, the main test in use is a proof of eligibility for one of the various subsistence allowances provided by the National Insurance Institute. Aid is also provided to persons in the process of a divorce and responsible for a child/children, and to a single parent who waived her/his housing rights as part of the divorce agreement. The programme is usually aimed as a temporary solution for one to three years, but low-income families according to special criteria, are entitled to unlimited extensions in assistance. The administrative process for realizing the right to rental assistance resembles that provided for subsidized mortgages (described above).
503. Empirical data for 1996 show that rent supplements were made available to more than 140,000 households each month. Of the 142,000 households that received rent supplements at the end of 1996, almost 113,000 (80 per cent) were new immigrants; 13,000 (9 per cent) were young couples with the requisite number of points; 6,300 (4.4 per cent) were single-parent households; and 2,800 (2 per cent) were elderly households, other than those included in the immigrant families.
(v) Public housing - Placement in publicly owned buildings with a subsidized rent
504. According to the MCH rules there are certain criteria for entitlement to a public housing unit. Priority is given to single-parent households with three or more children, to families whose members have a physical disability and to particularly low income households. Rental rates are set at three different levels, provided that the maximum level of assistance does not exceed 95 per cent of the actual rent. The main criteria under public housing assistance schemes are:
(a) Initial allocation:
(i) Certain non-homeowners - couples, one-person families, single-parent families, elderly persons, handicapped persons - with a means test;
(ii) Residents in unfit accommodation - without any means test;
(b) Change of residence within public housing:
(i) Health problems - without any means test;
(ii) Overcrowded conditions - without any income test.
505. Means tests take into consideration the overall income of the household. The entitlement rate is also influenced by the geographic location of units throughout the country. Generally speaking, there is a large reservoir of apartments held by the MCH and its agents, mostly in peripheral areas of the country. If an appropriate apartment is not available, there is a possibility that the Ministry will finance the acquisition of one to enable placement of an applicant eligible for subsidized rent. Such acquisition is decided according to the financial abilities of the Ministry. In 1996, about 100 such units were purchased to address particularly acute problems.
(vi) Special asistance of the Ministry for Labor and Social Affairs
506. Temporary relief of acute housing crises. There are three different types of such special assistance programmes: participation in rate fees; participation in house-repair expenses; participation in house-moving expenses. The general purpose of the programme is to provide a temporary “safety net” for people with an acute housing crisis. The aid is for a maximum period of two months and its goal is to prevent further aggravation of the situation. It is aimed at persons without any other alternative, who are in extreme personal or familial distress (or in danger thereof) because of exceptional housing conditions. Income tests similar to those used by the MCH is an additional condition. Eligibility is decided on the basis of a report made by a professional social worker. A common factor taken into consideration in this context is the existence or absence of a natural family capable of helping. Assistance is also provided when a judicial opinion recommends or orders separate residences.
507. Special assistance to the homeless. Treatment units in seven municipalities in different parts of the country provide a network of services for homeless persons. These services include: (a) shelter - emergency shelter during which efforts are made to establish eligibility for ongoing assistance; (b) treatment - a rehabilitation centre for treatment and diagnosis to help undertake the process of rehabilitation and the return to a more normal framework of living; (c) satellite apartments serving as “links” to facilitate the return to the community. In addition, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has established supplementary services and sheltered housing for two small sub-groups with additional needs: (a) alcoholics; and (b) those with emotional or physical disabilities. The services are conducted in cooperation with other national government agencies, including MCH, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, and the Ministry of Health, as well as municipal welfare services. This joint effort illustrates the widely accepted commitment on the part of government (both national and local) to taking responsibility for administering the needs of homeless individuals.
The legal framework of housing assistance
508. The Israeli legal framework relating to housing can be divided into two sorts of legal arrangements: (a) administrative directives, which define most of the assistance schemes; and (b) statutes and legal precedents which affect housing rights in the market.
509. The Housing Loans Law 1991 at first sight seems to contradict the validity of the previous distinction, since it creates a legal right to Government-subsidized mortgages. The Law sets a minimum range of mortgage assistance and stipulates maximum levels of interest rate. The Law furthermore authorizes the Minister of Construction and Housing, in conjunction with the Minister of Finance, to provide supplementary assistance at rates to be determined between them. The full text of this law is attached in annex A to this Report.
510. However, the law defines the content of the right by way of referral to the existing rules issued by the MCH. Therefore, no real change occurred since its enactment, and it will remain so until new rules are issued. One can nevertheless say that provisions which until this law was passed were mere “administrative directives”, must now be considered as secondary legislation even though they are not published as such. In any case, new rules under this law are in preparation, in the normal format of secondary legislation, and should be issued soon.
511. The legal status of the administrative directives, which define almost all housing assistance programmes described in the previous section, is the following: the Government may modify or abolish them at will, or even deviate from them in particular cases since they are mere “internal directives” guiding the use of discretion in administrative decisions. These directives have, however, legal implications: their content as well as their use or misuse by officials are subject to judicial scrutiny under regular administrative law. Hence decisions according to the said directives may not discriminate, be arbitrary or unreasonable.
512. Mention was made in the previous sections of two laws granting rights to housing assistance to specific groups - the Absorption of Discharged Soldiers Law 1994 and the Single-Parent Families Law 1992. These laws are of limited scope when put in the perspective of all the assistance programmes in place. Furthermore, they merely increase the level of assistance for specific vulnerable groups, as opposed to creating a right standing by itself.
513. The above legal analysis concerns direct assistance to be provided by State or other public agencies. One must keep in mind that there exist in Israel various legal provisions that indirectly affect housing rights and opportunities, often in a way that diminishes the need for direct assistance. Such is the Protection of Tenants Law (Revised Version) 1972. This Law applies only to the housing units it defines (constituting about 2.1 per cent of total rental households). Accordingly, tenants are protected from raises in rent over a certain sum defined by governmental ordinance under the Law. This Law also protects the tenants to which it applies from eviction in contradiction to defined grounds, and gives the courts full discretion to oppose an eviction plea whenever it believes it is needed for “reasons of justice”. As a matter of fact, this provision has made eviction from protected tenants almost impossible.
514. Also important in the present context is the Rental and Borrowing Law 1971, which defines the division of responsibility between landlords and their tenants as far as maintenance of the housing unit is concerned.
515. The Sales Law 1968 is a generalized consumer protection-related law. It specifies the rights and responsibilities of the consumer and seller, and outlines the various remedies available in case of breach of the law. The Sales Law (Apartments) 1973 further protects those purchasing new dwelling units from contractors. The Law delineates a standard sales format outlining the physical features of the dwelling unit, and provides for remedies in instances of disparities between the sales contract and the completed unit. The Law additionally defines the minimum guarantee period for various components of the dwelling unit or building. Finally, the Sales Law (Guarantees for the Investment of Purchasers of Apartments) 1974 focuses on providing financial guarantees to the purchasers of apartments from building contractors during the construction process. The law calls for the seller to provide bank guarantees or insurance to the purchaser to protect all payments made before the title transfer is completed.
516. Finally, legal arrangements exist for the provision of substantive reductions or even a total waiver of homeowners’ municipal tax in cases involving very low income owners, according to various means tests.
Government policy to combat poverty in Israel - Recent trends and developments
517. Increased resources have been allocated to programmes for promoting social development in the last several years. The areas which have received greatest attention in terms of planning, allocation of funds, and reorganization include improved quality of education and reforms in income maintenance, direct taxation and health care systems. The principles underlying the current government policy to reduce poverty and income disparities are:
- Raising the minimum income guaranteed to the most vulnerable groups: the elderly, the disabled and one parent families.
- Equalizing social security rights of beneficiaries of equal needs.
- Reducing the burden of direct taxes while preserving the delicate balance between efficiency and equity. Equity has been preserved by broadening the tax basis and reducing the marginal tax rates for low income groups.
- Enhancing social protection to new immigrants via the various assistance programmes.
- Guaranteeing by legislation the universal access to health services.
- Allocating more resources to improve the educational system in quantitative as well as qualitative terms.
- Introducing improvements in selected areas of the social services provided to vulnerable populations
- Increasing Social Protection to the most vulnerable groups: The Single-Parent Families Law 1992 and the Reduction of Poverty and Income Disparities.
518. The Single-Parent Families Law, enacted in 1992, has strengthened the social protection for one-parent families with low income, by increasing the level of their means-tested benefit (i.e. the minimum subsistence income), as well as by awarding them child-education grants and priority in vocational training. The law brought about an equalization of rights among the various types of one-parent families, under the principle of “equal treatment for families with equal needs”.
519. In 1994, the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs initiated the law for the Reduction of Poverty and Income Disparities. This was enacted in part in response to the publication of data that indicated an increase in the rate of poverty in the last several years. The fact that such a law has been enacted reflects the society’s recognition and commitment to alleviate economic hardship and reduce income inequality. Under this law, the means-tested benefits paid to the elderly and one-parent families, as well as the disability benefits for families with children, have been raised significantly and now exceed the poverty line. Also, beneficiaries aged 46 and over received an increment of the benefit, in view of their little likelihood of finding a job. It is estimated that the law will bring about a one third reduction in the incidence of poverty. The resources for financing the increased benefits have been raised mainly by a light cut in the level of the universal child allowances, with the exception of those paid to large families, as well as by an increment in government participation in the financing of social security benefits. A complementary proposal, submitted to the government by the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs and now under discussion, would extend the increased means-tested benefits to all families with children.
Towards universality of Child Allowance Programs
520. In 1993-1994 the Government completed the final steps necessary to establish a universal child allowance scheme, by which a unified allowance would be granted to every family in Israel in accordance with the number of children. These steps included abolishing the income test for small families as a prerequisite for entitlement to child allowances and gradually extending the child allowance increments provided to veterans of the armed services to the entire population. The purpose of these changes was to overcome the low take-up rate of child allowances by small low-income families (only 50 per cent of eligible families had received the allowance) and to base the child allowance level on the number of children alone, irrespective of income and service in the armed forces. This should enhance the equity of the scheme and bring about an improvement in the well-being of families with children, in particular large non-Jewish families, most of whom were previously ineligible for the special increments provided to those who served in the armed forces.
521. An exceptional number of reforms in the Israel direct tax system took place during the last decade. Since 1984, the Government has undertaken several policy measures to reduce the income tax burden, mainly to enhance work incentives and promote economic growth. These measures, which have been gradually implemented over the decade brought about a reduction in the marginal income tax rates. (The lowest rate has been reduced from 25 per cent to 15 per cent, and the high from 60 per cent to 48 per cent.) High-income earners have benefited more than low-income earners from these tax changes. To compensate for the adverse effects on equity, complementary steps have been, and will be, implemented in the tax schemes of the social security and health systems, so as to improve overall equity of direct taxes.
522. Under the Reduction of Poverty and Income Disparities Law which came into force in 1995, the social security tax basis will be broadened - by raising the tax basis ceiling and by including income components currently exempt from taxation - and the rate levied on low incomes will be reduced by 50 per cent. This policy has also been adopted as part of the National Health Insurance Law 1995. Its importance lies not only in achieving a more equitable distribution of the tax burden, but also in reducing the poverty trap afflicting many workers who currently straddle the borderline between low paid jobs and unemployment. Furthermore, under the reformed health tax scheme, special attention has been paid to vulnerable groups, such as the elderly or widow/widowers, who will pay only a minimum flat rate contribution.
The National Council for Diminishing Social Gaps and War on Poverty
523. The National Council for Diminishing Social Gaps and War on Poverty was founded by the Government in August 1996 and began operating in May 1997. Its mandate includes defining “poverty”, indicating its causes and trends, submitting to the government proposals for a national policy, innovative reform projects and ways to enhance empowerment of disadvantaged groups and finally, running pilot projects.
524. Whereas the Israeli Government has always been deeply involved with social policy and social assistance, it is the first time an attempt is made to provide national leadership with comprehensive and systematic data and approach.
525. The council's composition combines professionalism and empowerment. The Labor and Social Affairs Minister chairs an assembly of about 70 members, of whom 60 per cent represent governmental and public agencies, universities, religious and spiritual circles, and 40 per cent are community representatives (volunteers, representatives of relevant NGO’s, local community leaders, etc.). Members of the assembly take part in specialized working committees, headed by prominent specialists. The council is activated and coordinated by a gearing committee and a coordinator, under the direction of the Director General of the Ministry for Labor and Social Affairs. A decision on its budget is still to be made. For the meantime, it is mainly based on volunteer participation and on modest funds provided by the Ministry.
526. The Center for International Agricultural Cooperation and Instruction at the Ministry of Agriculture assists developing countries, mainly in Africa, Asia and Central and South America. The aid is given as direct instruction, conducting courses for further training in Israel, mobile courses in the target countries, and also advice with the planning of different agricultural ventures. The centre coordinates activity in joint research for developing countries. The research is coordinated with academic agricultural research centres in Israel. Thanks to the fruitful cooperation between researchers and research institutions in Israel, by the funding countries and the developing countries, the funding countries are expanding this activity for the coming years. There is also cooperation on the subject with a number of non-governmental organizations overseas, and, in many instances, a funding source for development of the projects, training courses and research, is involved. The contacts with these bodies is fully coordinated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
527. The centre, together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has run courses and trained manpower in various agricultural matters for hundreds of students in Israel, as well as 60 mobile courses in countries in Latin America, Asia, Africa, Egypt and Eastern Europe. The activities include the sending of experts for long-term agricultural projects, setting up a sample farm, consultating in the framework of agricultural projects and providing other advice in coordination with, and at the request of, the various countries.
528. During the last year, joint activities with countries that have recently renewed ties with Israel has increased - among them: China, India and various countries of the former Soviet bloc.
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