Thursday, October 13

Ramadan, Yom Kipur, some thoughts on poverty

Around 5.30 afternoon, most of Adjami's streets are quiet. Few cars, little noise.
When it gets THAT quiet during the day hours, (or rather, early evening hours, i haven't yet gotten used to winter time, it gets dark so early now) you can even hear the noise of cutlery, of dishes being set down on the table, coming from the many dining rooms, gardens and balconies, where families are sitting down to break the Ramadan fast.

Today it is especially quiet, it's also Yom Kipur, the Day of Atonement. Hardly any cars, lots of children on bikes, people walking in the middle of the streets. Time to say "i'm sorry, please forgive me" on this holiest of holy days.
And there is a lot to be forgiven.

Over 415 NGO's hand out food to over 450.000 hungry Israelis, both Jews and Arabs (source: a recently published research by Benny Gidron of Ben Gurion University). About a 100 NGO's operate soup kitchens, where the very poor receive a daily dinner often for free or for a tiny payment (2 NIS). About 40% of the clients of the soup kitchens are elderly people, whose tiny pensions do not cover more than the rental for their small flats and municipality taxes and electricity. Food is a luxury, medicine they only buy when there is no choice, often instead of buying food or paying the rent. Quite a few are people suffering from mental problems and diseases. Often they have been hosiptalized for many years. Yet some time ago, it was decided they should live in the community, which was to be more humane. Yet communities do not have the tools to care for them. And for many, after having been cared for for so many years, the expecatation to be independent is rather large. Their families often live far away. Friends find it diificult to cope with their "strangeness" and the neighbors are a little scared. For many of this group, the soup kitchens are also a social frame work, the only place they meet other people.
Other clients are recent immigrants, who often work at more than 1 job. But when you work through a temp job agency, you often do not receive the minimal wage and you are not in a position you can do much about it. Wages are no paid on time, are partialy paid. Often new immigrants are not aware of their labor rights, and this lack of knowledge is abused by quite a few employers. When trying to deal with these rogue employers, the temp agencies disappear and are opened under a new name at the same address, with the same people. Yet it is difficult to take them to court.
Other soup kitchen clients are 1-parent families with children, no longer able to get by.

Many people are too ashamed to go to the soup kitchens, as there are many more poor then the number mentioned by the NGO's. Or they have not been found eligible, just like all the other families mentioned by the social worker i spoke to. She can refer 5 families to the food NGO. She has to make an impossible choice and not refer another 95 families who are just as needy, as hungry. At the end of the market day, you see those people gathering fruit and vegetables at the market, from the floor. The half rotten potatoes and cabages, lemons too spotty to be sold for even a low "end of the day" market price: the poor, getting some food.

And i am not talking about the third world. Or well, perhaps i am, in a sense. The income differences between the wealthy and the poor in Israel, are the largest in the western world. Maybe this is not the western world.

Poverty has become "common", an accepted phenomenom. And the poor are blamed for being poor.

Welfare payments have been cut again and again, while PR campaigns by the government have created an atmosphere in which recipients are seen as thieves and parasites "unwilling to work".

Yet many of those so-called "parasites" work. Only, their wages are below the legal minimum. Employers can get away not paying enough to their temporary employees. If they complain, they 're sacked, so who cares? The Labour office is supposed to supervise this and paying below the minimum wage is an offence, but in fact, many of the govetrnment agencies employ cleaning, security and secretarial services through outsourcing agencies. These agencies are selected by public tender and the offer they give is so cheap, there is no way they can meet minimum wage demands. Yet the government offices do not even check on this. They cover their asses by demanding (in the public tender agreements) the contracter will employ his employees by law. In reality, no one guards this, which led to the amazing state in which even the labor courts did not check on their clerks and cleaners' labor rights. Indeed, the cat guards the cream....

Other welfare recipients are elderly or unemployed between the ages 50 - 65, who nobody wants to employ. The payments they receive cannot cover rent, taxes, electricity, medicine etc. So they slowly sink into a quagmire of debts, depression, bad health. No one really cares.

The situation of unemployed Arab women is also very difficult, as few employers in Jaffa, are willing to employ them. As a test a friend and me called employers about a job offered in the newspaper. When identifying ourselves with Jewish names we were asked to submit our CV and make an appointment. When we identified using an Arab name, we were told by the same potential employer, that the job offer was no longer available.
This is ofcourse illegal, but potential employers can always get past the problem, by demanding army service in their job requiremtns. Arab women are not drafted into the army, so they never have "army experience". However, when you call the employer and state you are a young new immigrant from the ex-Soviet Union, therefore did not serve in the army, the army service requirement "doen't really matter".

But i was talking about poverty:

Social workers ,in Jaffa, are helpless, with caseloads they cannot deal with and a lack of sources. I contacted one of them for a fimaliy i know. I hoped she would be able to refer them to one of the Food NGO's who hand out food parcels to the needy. This was her answer: "look, Yudit", she said to me, " I can refer 5 families every half year. I know the family you talk about and they received half a year of weekly food parcels last year, if i give them food again, i have to take another family out of the program, so "your" family will have to wait". And then she went on: " i can give them a one time referral to a food NGO in Rishon, but i'm not sure they can give her much more than a bottle of cooking oil, and the public transport bus to go to Rishon leZion and return to Jaffa, may cost more then the bottle of oil". The same social worker said she had more than one hundred failies on her waiting list for food parcel hand outs. The same goes for all the other social workers in the same agency.

Let me tell you about a family who receive food parcels from the Association for Humanitarian Assistance (Yefet 152, Jaffa), a Muslim welfare NGO:

The names are ficticious, the story isn't.

Mariyam married when she was 16 to an older man according to the wishes of her family. She had 4 children, when her husband died of an illness. She remarried and had another 4 children by her second husband, who started to use drugs. While on drugs he sold the family flat and most of the electrical appliances, as well as Mariyams marriage gold jewellery. He also started abusing her and the children. Finally he left her for another woman and drugs. He does not pay child alimony and Mariyam does not know of his whereabouts.

Mariyam works cleaning other people's houses, hard physical work. Three of her young children suffer from asthma and often she spends her nights caring for them in the hospital emergency room and her youngest child, aged 3, is on a waiting list for kinder garden. So, often she misses a day of work.
She and her 8 children live on 1600 NIS a month due to all kinds of burocratic problems, part of her children (whose father is a Palestinian from the occupied territories) are not recognised by the state of Israel and do not have health insurance. Their mother is an Israeli citizen, the 4 children were born here, they live here all their lives, but they are not recognized.

Often there is no food. The electricity and water are provided by the neighbors, after Mariyam and her children were cut off, due to unpaid bills. The energy cut off was carried out illegally, but the municipality know Mariyam will not fight back. Electricity and water "by means of the neighbors" is quite commmon here in Jaffa.

Mariyams children go all to school (except the smallest one). She tries to buy books and notebooks for all, but not one child has all the educational materials (s)he needs. Mariyam does her best to buy books for all, but each year the lists are changed and so she cannot pass on books from one child to the next.

Mariyam lost her previous job in August, missing too many days and being too late too often (it's tough taking care of 8 children who have to be at school at different hours and return at different hours, spending nights in the hospital, having to find and pay a baby sitter for the smallest kid, a three year old who is on a waiting list for kinder garten) and registered at the employment service. They sent her to a manpower agency somewhere north of Tel Aviv (3 buses, from where Mariyam lives it will take her at least 30 NIS a day and 3 hours to go there and come back) who wanted her to start every morning at 7 and finish at 16.00.
Mariyam explained her children start school at 8.30, so she cannot leave home before 8.15. Also they finish between 13.00 and 15.00, so she shuold be back around 14.00. (her wage does not allow her to pay a child carer on a daily base) It is important to know that by law you may not leave a child below the age of 12 unattended by someone below the age of 16, so Mariyam's older children cannot legally care for the younger ones)
The employment agency wrote down that she had refused to work and her small; social security payment was taken away from her.
There is a procedure of getting it back, but this procedure takes months.

Mariyam and her 8 children are left with barely an income and hungry. Food parcels take care of the hunger and a friendly family bought new clothes and school uniforms for some of the children.

So Mariyam and her 8 children are among the people who receive food parcels. It's Ramadan, a time for doing good deeds. It's Yom Kipur, a day for saying "i'm sorry" and rectifying evils.

Poverty is not solved by handing out food. Poverty is not necessary. Poverty can be solved by paying minimum wages that allow people a decent living, by defining "a liveable income".
How much money does one need to live in a safe house, to buy food, medicine, an education for ones children (with all necessary books and srudy materials), electricity, water and perhaps a festive dinner at eid el fiter or yom kipur? Some new clothes and a pair of shoes now and then, a family visit to the local public pool during the summer holidays, a football to play with etc, (or are these luxuries?).

Poverty is a social evil, solvable, unnecessary, i suppose we all need to say "we are sorry", as we're not doing enough to deal with it.

Handing out food parcels does NOT solve poverrty. A liveable minimum wage, proper work conditions, child care for working parents, liveable payments for those unabe to work (age, illness, migration etc) can all be obtained. Decent public housing is another must.

It's all a matter of priorities and policy making.
Ramadan, yom kippur, atonement, rectifying wrongs.....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was a designer, now am social worker. You should be a SOCIAL WORKER!