This past June, Coalition Chairman MK David Bitan announced a dramatic increase in disability pensions, set to rise to NIS 4,000, based on a plan that was already in place at the Ministry of Finance and was set to go into effect on January 1, 2018.
This change, which is intended to improve the conditions of disabled people and has consensus across the aisle, must still pass through the usual Knesset legislation process.
However, Bitan has yet to push actual legislation through and, in point of fact, the Knesset is now in recess with the future of disabled Israelis still up in the air. Most coalition members, except MK Nava Boker (Likud), refused to comment on the matter.
"I've been up at arms on this issue for 18 months," said Boker. "I've submitted an unprecedented bill, which was signed by 82 MKs, because this is not a partisan issue; there's complete consensus. The bill was taken up to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation and was rejected by the Ministry of Finance, despite receiving support from most of the coalition's ministers."
Boker stresses that, "At the beginning of the next session, a governmental bill will be put forward, to which two private proposed bills will be attached—one of my own drafting and one by my friend Ilan Gilon who submitted his own bill six months ago, which was shot down."
Why wait for the start of the next session?
"Unfortunately, the Knesset is already in recess, but that doesn't mean we've stopped working. What I say is this – let's grab this initial accomplishment with both hands, because going from NIS 2,342 to NIS 4,000 is an absolute win. It may not be minimum wage, and I'll continue working until we get there, but it's certainly better than nothing. It's the best result we could've possibly achieved, and we've used every possible tool in our arsenal. It won't happen within the next year, but I firmly believe eventually we'll achieve that goal."
'A disability double standard'
Michal Hasson, one of the leaders of the disabled protest and a mother of two, is forced to live off of an NIS 2,342 pension and an additional pension, both of which are insufficient for a respectable existence, she says. "It's simply not good enough – not for me and not for my children," says Hasson, who's currently unemployed. "I stopped working because I saw everything I made go to National Insurance payments and rebates."
As for politicians' statements about bringing disability pensions up to minimum wage levels, Hasson says: "There was some hope, but as long as no law is passed, I can't believe it can actually happen. Disabled people have been given the runaround for 15 years while pensions have been eroding. Fifteen years have passed since they were linked with the consumer price index, and they haven't gone up at all."
Today Hasson receives financial support from her family: "I have a son and a daughter and my family's been helping, but it just feels awful having to turn to my mom and say, 'I need money because I don't have any.'"
During a Knesset discussion, Hasson turned to MK Boker: "I'm asking you, what am I supposed to do from now until January 2018? Besides which, the planned increase won't pertain to all disabled people. There are double standards in place. What does medical disability have to do with a living pension that anyone incapable of working should receive? What are disabled people supposed to do?"
Boker replied: "There are some benefits that won't be taken off the pension of a disabled person who's able to work, as has regrettably been the case up until now. These further benefits are supposed to be included in the proposed deal, which I'm sorry to say will only be up for debate when we're back in session, which is not up to me."
MK Gilon placed blame for the delays at the feet of the prime minister and minister of finance, "The Knesset has already agreed to something, and it seems someone has intentionally disrupted it – Netanyahu on the one hand and Kahlon on the other, who needs a bill of his own so he can add his name to it. As far as I'm concerned, the compromise was reached in pensions being NIS 4,000 and not NIS 5,000. Let me have a go at being Minister of Finance for two months and I'll set that straight."
"Why do we have to wait until the end of the summer? Because two very powerful egos are in play competing for who does better by disabled people, while in reality one chastises them with whips and the other with scorpions," adds Gilon. "It's a budget of NIS 4.5-5 billion and the money's there, but now they need a fourth proposed bill called the 'Yaron Zelekha' bill because Kahlon wants to appear to be the law's originator. In the meantime, real people are undergoing real suffering."
"I approached both Netanyahu and Kahlon eight months ago, and I told them, 'If your problem is getting the credit, then go ahead and take it because this needed to happen 15 years ago,'" Gilon said and went on the offensive, "Everybody's cheating and everybody's lying, including the nonsense I heard here before about the supposed best efforts. Nobody's doing disabled people any favors. Poverty is an improper distribution of wealth."
After the article was published, Bitan issued the following statement: "As part of an unprecedented move in the Knesset, the Chairman of the Coalition has brought together all of the parliament's parties to support the agreement that—for the first time in 14 years—raises disability pensions to NIS 4,000 in several stages, comparing it to the minimum wage and even significantly changing the law to say a disabled person will be able to make up to NIS 4,200 working without harming their pension.
"The agreement was approved by the prime minister and the minister of finance with the target date for starting to implement it being January 2018, when the first stage starts raising the pension of people with serious disabilities to NIS 4,000. MK Bitan has contacted the prime minister to ask that legislation on this matter go into effect during recess and end with the coming winter session. The prime minister has instructed the minister of welfare to initiate governmental legislation on the issue, so any claims by heads of the disabled persons' organizations are premature."