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Israel to look poverty in the face

Whether it was shame over having the highest poverty rate and fifth largest social gap of any member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the complaints from Israel's social security administration, or the steady pressure from civil society – or all three – the government finally decided to tackle the issue of Israel's climbing poverty rate. A special inter-ministerial committee to combat poverty was formed this week, which will be tasked with setting measurable targets for reducing poverty and social gaps – which are exactly the demands of the SHATIL-led Social Budget Forum.

"It's good to know that when you apply coordinated pressure, sometimes you see results," said SHATIL Social Change Organizer Odeya Shabtai, who coordinates the work of the Social Budget Forum.

The Forums' actions included mobilizing grassroots via a Facebook campaign and flooding Finance Minister Yair Lapid's inbox with emails demanding that he set specific goals and objectives for reducing poverty and social/economic gaps.

On Wednesday, a letter - initiated by the Social Budget Forum and the Forum to Combat Poverty - signed by 55 influential Israelis demanding government action was sent to top officials and ministries. Among other actions, the letter asked the government to set a goal of reducing poverty rates by five per cent a year.

The OECD report found that the 2012 poverty rate in Israel was 21%, compared to less than 15% in 1995. A study by Israel's National Insurance Institute revealed that the rate of children living in poverty rose from 26% in 1999 to 35.6% in 2011.

The next step in the campaign to convince the Israeli government to seriously tackle poverty will be a Knesset conference at the beginning of July, raising public awareness, and recruiting additional members of Knesset to the campaign. 

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$250 million to Israeli social change groups since 1979.