The Time Has Come to Deal with an Existential Threat


This morning an interview I was supposed to have on the radio was cancelled. The interview was about child poverty. It was cancelled in order to discuss a terror attack last night.

Terror is sensational, it is obvious why discussion on security is a higher priority… isn’t it?

There is no competition here — both terror and poverty are existential threats, both are micro threats, both are also macro threats.

As everything else is overpowered by terror and other security issues, much is known on the subject and the need to act, if perhaps not the way, is clear.

As everything else is overpowered by terror, little bandwidth remains to discover, understand and appreciate the need to act on other issues, such as child poverty.

Until the situation in Spain, Greece and Latvia got very much worse recently, Israel topped the list of levels of child poverty amongst wealthy countries. As we wish to remain, I would assume, a wealthy country, I would suggest looking less at the fact that others are now worse off, and more at the fact that we have an incredibly serious problem on our hands.

This problem is our challenge and our responsibility, and the only society to be affected, for the good of for the bad, is ours.

Here are just 10 effects of child poverty on Israeli society (there are, of course, many more):

  • Poorer children will go hungry
  • Health costs will be higher
  • Education levels will be lower
  • Career options will be limited, leading to lower income
  • The tax burden will be higher on those earning more
  • Levels of disposal income will be lower for everyone
  • Businesses will make less
  • Employment levels will be lower
  • Wealth inequality will grow, and will be passed from generation to generation
  • Society will be fragmented, less able to find common goals, crime will rise, vandalism will increase, and so on

All of this is not a doomsday vision for future, all of this has been spiraling downwards for years as poverty levels have grown.

Here are 5 challenges preventing us from doing the right thing:

  • Children do not vote
  • Those with less wealth have less time to dedicate to social action. They have less of a voice
  • Many of the suggestions raised are seen as political interest issues that are renegotiated too frequently
  • The solution seems complicated
  • It is “their” issue/fault/problem, not mine

Newsflash: It is your issue, it is my issue, it is all of our issue!

Without over-simplifying it, there are lessons that have been learned by UNICEF investigating this issue over many years, in many countries. Whereas the work-plan will have to be much more tailored to our own paradigm, here are 5 elements that will have to be the foundation for significant change:

  • A national strategy must be drawn up for the fight against child poverty. It must be a long-term (20 year) plan, and it must be written in stone
  • This strategy must be communicated to society, who must be a full partner in the plan and its implementation
  • Child benefits will need to be raised and their recipient community broadened
  • Significant investment needs to be made in education that will lead to profession and employment
  • The fight against child poverty, and all aspects of the strategic plan, must be divorced from coalition negotiations

The ability of Israeli society to stand strong in the face of terror is its resilience. Child poverty is perhaps the biggest threat to Israeli society’s resilience that exists.

Perhaps next time, all the time, we should discuss child poverty, until it is gone.

About the Author
Jonny Cline is the Executive Director of UNICEF Israel and founder of the British philanthropic foundation UK Toremet.