"A person who brings himself to such a state, or who is brought to such a state, is shocking by every measure," National Insurance Institute director general Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef told "Globes". He was speaking in response to the self-immolation by Moshe Silman at a demonstration on Saturday night because of his financial situation and what he called the unresponsiveness of the system, including the welfare system and National Insurance.
In his first interview since the incident, Mor-Yosef said, "This is a kind of suicide with a very clear message. The message and the pain stand out sharply. No one can remain indifferent, whether you are involved or whether you are guilty or not."
On the morning when anonymous vandals set fire to the entrance to the National Insurance Institute office in Ramat Gan and sprayed "Moshe Silman's price tag" on the wall, Mor-Yosef fears that the National Insurance Institute will turn into a symbol of obtuseness and a target of public anger.
"The National Insurance Institute, with its wide-ranging activities, is an institute that takes care of the social safety net and seeks to reduce gaps as much as possible. But in the end, the rules of its operations are set by the Knesset, and not by the National Insurance Institute. The Institute's employees do the best they can to provide service, and we want to improve the service as much as possible. I don’t think that it is right to see the National Insurance Institute as a symbol of the regime that people are demonstrating against," says Mor-Yosef.
Haredim should get off welfare
Mor-Yosef took care to say that Silman's case involved a string of events and various factors, which led to its deterioration, but he does not evade the issue when asked if he believes that a person recognized as having 100% disability should and could live on an allowance of NIS 2,300 a month. "The answer is clear," he says. "An allowance of this amount is not enough to live on. In Israel, National Insurance is meant as the last safety net because you have nothing, but this safety net is minimal. I am aware of this."
Mor-Yosef implies that the factors which have resulted in Israel having the one of the lowest levels of welfare payments in the West is due to the number of welfare payments granted, including universal payments, such as child allowances and old-age pensions, which are granted regardless of the economic status of the recipient. "Obviously, there is a trade-off between universal welfare payments and differential pensions, and if more people receive universal welfare payments it will come at the expense of other payments. On the other hand, people justly say, 'I paid National Insurance all my life. Why should I get nothing?'"
"Globes": So you share the idea of equal burden with the social protest movement? Is the position of the haredim (ultra-orthodox) in society and in the labor market related to the issue of welfare payments?
Mor-Yosef: "When I appeared before the Plesner committee, I told them one thing: sever military service from the labor market. Let them work, because otherwise you sentence them to poverty. If they aren’t in the labor market, or in National Service, or in military service, which contributes to society, they'll remain in the welfare market."
Do you think that the Ministry of Finance has too much power in setting Israel's welfare policy?
"It's very convenient to blame the Ministry of Finance, and it's wrong. Ultimately, there is only one pie, and when we pay almost NIS 70 billion in welfare payments a year, then it's clear that change at the National Insurance has a large impact, which is why they look at us. We recently examined the level of welfare payments in the past decade, and found that, even after alowing for demographics and inflation, the amount of welfare payments rose by an average of 10% in real terms. Most the positive change was in child allowances and disability allowances. But it's clear that from the moment that we became a member of the OECD, we want to be there and invest in welfare like the OECD. This also means narrowing gaps in the inequality index and other indices. We have something to strive for."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on July 17, 2012
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2012