This report reviews current trends within Israel’s various social service systems, emphasizing their successes as well as the challenges that they still face. In light of the situation described above, there can be no doubt that the coming year will differ from previous ones.
From mid-2003 and up until the current slowdown, the Israeli economy grew vigorously. Numerous achievements point to the period’s economic vitality at both the aggregate level − as reflected in a rise in both the total and per capita gross domestic product (GDP) − and with regard to other economic indicators such as increased foreign investment in Israel, a rise in the number and rate of employment and a concomitant decline in the unemployment rate, as well as an increase in real wages within both the private and the public-service sectors. This period of economic prosperity might have been a golden opportunity to work on reducing economic inequality − by, among other things, channeling resources to weaker populations on various planes. However, from the findings in this report as well, it seems that the opportunity has been missed and that the benefits of economic growth have failed to trickle down, at least not adequately, to all sectors of the population.
We are currently in the midst of a worldwide economic crisis, one that has not, unfortunately, spared the Israeli economy. As a result, one may expect that the circle of those dependent on the welfare networks will expand, the number of those eligible for wage-replacement benefits from the National Insurance Institute will increase, and the burden on Israel’s social service system will grow heavier. The recent fighting in Gaza may, moreover, be expected to place a greater burden on Israel’s security system during the current budget year. At times like this, concern for the socioeconomically weaker populations becomes an especially complex issue. It is, however, precisely at these times that social solidarity is put to the test and the government’s social priorities are manifested in the practical sphere. To the constraints enumerated above one may add the fact that due to early elections, as of early 2009, no budget has been approved; in effect, the budget on which the government will be functioning during the early part of 2009 is based on the budget approved for 2008. What this means is that, during the first quarter of 2009, there will be no budgetary reflection of the needs relevant to this time period. One of the most important challenges that the incoming government will have to face is that of finding a way to address the needs of the weaker sectors and acting to narrow existing socio-economic disparities − while also advancing an economic policy designed to place the Israeli economy on a path toward renewed growth.