Independence from benefits – to education
Israel’s Day of
Independence – for thinking outside the box, for escaping fixed mindsets and
letting imagination spread it wings. Two
and a half months have elapsed since elections that could herald the beginning
of the first significant turnaround in national priorities since the last huge
turnaround that we experienced, in the 1970s.
A small case in point is used here to illustrate what might be
accomplished if we only allow ourselves the independence to think and the
courage to change.
Child benefits were
introduced in Israel to achieve two primary objectives: encouraging the birth
of more babies and assisting children living in poverty. Seven billion shekels (close to 2 billion
dollars) are distributed each year as child benefits towards attaining these
goals – though research studies have shown that the fertility incentives are
effective primarily among poor Bedouin families in the south and poor
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish families. Is this
the soliloquy that this policy’s composers had in mind when they wrote it?
What about the goal
of aiding poor children? It is not
obvious how much the 175 or 263 shekels (depending on the number of children)
that a family receives per child each month (6 or 9 shekels a day) actually
contributes. It is possible to think of
alternatives to this mode of assistance – which, by the way, also reflects a
negative work incentive.
The time has come
to give independence to the 7 billion shekels that are currently being spent on
child benefits. If the budgetary hole is
so deep that the Finance Minister needs 2 billion shekels to help reduce the
deficit – let him take the money. But
the rest should not be left as diluted child benefits and should be directed in
an entirely different direction.
Minister should give the remaining 5 billion shekels to the Education Minister
so that this money could be transformed into daily hot lunches for children
living in poor neighborhoods, within schools that provide education for a few
more hours beyond noon each day, in schools that need to have actual lunchrooms
like in normal countries – and under the specific immutable condition that
these schools teach a full core curriculum with no rounding of corners or
This is how we will
be able to ensure that children living in poverty will receive at least one
normal hot meal per day – which is considerably more than what their parents
could have bought them with the 6-9 shekels a day that they currently receive
as child benefits. As a side benefit,
Israel will have begun its first steps toward giving these children a ladder
for climbing above the poverty line as adults.
This is a core treatment of poverty that is not just for the
children. A longer school day would also
enable many of their parents to find a job.
This is not rocket
science. The same astronomical amounts
that we pay annually as benefits will be directed from this point forward
towards those who really need it – support for the present that will be
accompanied by the provision of tools and hope for the future.
best wishes to all of us for a happy Independence Day, independence from
benefits – to education.