The Labor, Welfare and Health Committee held a special meeting on Wednesday to discuss a United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) report showing that Israel has the highest level of inequality among children in the world’s 41 developed EU and OECD countries. The report, ”Fairness for Children: A league table of inequality in child well-being in rich countries,” cited Israel’s 27.5 percent rate of child poverty as the highest among the countries ranked, surpassing Mexico and Chile.

”We knew the situation was severe and disgraceful, but we did not imagine the extent of it,” said Committee Chairman MK Elie Elalouf (Kulanu). ”The welfare field in the State of Israel needs an additional 50 billion shekels.”

John Klein, CEO of UNICEF Israel, noted the gaps between legislation aimed at aiding children, and the implementation of such laws. ”There is work to be done,” he told the committee.

Israel ranked 37 out of the 41 countries included in the report with regards to income inequality, meaning that the household income of a child in the bottom tenth percentile in Israel is almost 65 percent lower than that of the average child in Israel.

With a large proportion of 15-year-old students with below-average proficiency in reading, math, and science literacy, Israel also ranked among the lowest in terms of education equality.

MK Elalouf in response to UNICEF report on child poverty in Israel: ”We had no idea how disgraceful the situation is”

(MK Eli Elalouf)

Israel ranked last in health inequality, with children in Israel`s bottom tenth percentile experiencing a health score 40 percent lower than the average child, and around 30 percent of children reporting one or more negative health symptom per day.

Israel also ranked at the bottom of developed nations in terms of inequality in life satisfaction, with the nation`s bottom ten percent reporting 30 percent lower life satisfaction than average.

After presenting the report`s findings to the committee, Klein said ”enough with the politicization of children. Children`s welfare is not a political issue.”

During the debate, and argument broke out between a number of MKs after MK Avraham Neguise said Likud was the most socially-oriented political party. MK Michal Rozin of Meretz said in response ”Who cancelled the child and single-mother stipends? Learn the facts.”

At this point, Chairman Elalouf intervened and said, ”Throughout the years the state has not dealt properly with the weak populations. A country that neglects its children is a country with no conscience. However, adopting the current government`s poverty report will reduce the number of poor children by seven percent. This, of course, is not enough. Only one thing will get people out of poverty: education.”

MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) said, ”In Israel there are two countries: one is rich and the other is poor and neglected. Within the Arab population, two out of every three children are poor.” Fellow Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi stated that ”an Arab child gets one ninth of what a Jewish child gets from the high schools` education budget.”

MK Yigal Guetta (Shas) said that a child in Herzliya gets 170 times more from the education budget than a child in Rahat, while MK Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism) said, ”The time has come to prohibit high taxes on products related to the welfare of children, such as basic food items and housing.”