While various countries such as France, Canada and Scotland – among many others – have realized the devastating social effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their populations, Israel’s government has not.
Here, unfortunately, the Corona crisis has hit social services badly as no other crisis has before, leading to cuts in vital services that people need. A new, soon-to-be-published study by researchers at Ben-Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev in the Negev found that welfare services during the Corona crisis were significantly reduced, despite the increase in the number of people needing social assistance.
The study was based on a representative sample of 2600 workers and social workers employed in all types of welfare services and was conducted between August and October 2020, in the period after the first and second closure.
At the height of the Corona crisis, 41% of social workers reported that social welfare programs and projects had be shut down. Fully 54% of study participants reported significant impairment in the service in which they work in the period after the first closure. 18% reported staff reductions in the workplaces, due to being laid off or dismissed. Many state subsidies for non-profit organizations that provide specific social services were halted. Only three percent said they saw an increase in spending.
The study by Dr. Talia Meital Schwartz-Tayri of BGU, with participation of researchers from the University of California at Berkeley and the Israel Social Workers’ Union found that although the Corona crisis increased the number of people in need of social assistance, welfare services were reduced
One of the serious findings of the study is that 12% of social workers in domestic-violence prevention and child-protection services reported a reduction in the scope of the services for which they are employed – even after the services returned to full operation.
Schwartz-Tairy asserted that “one of the most serious things we discovered in this study was not only that there are services that were completely shut down, even after the gradual return to routine, but that precisely when there was a dramatic increase in inquiries and reports of helpless populations, services were compromised. An unreasonable burden was created on the social workers leading to even real harm to their health. It is precisely in such an unsettling period that it is important that sectors needing services receive a proper response in the State of Israel.”
The study showed that 929 workers and social workers reported a reduction in the services, programs and projects that their organizations operated – 179 social workers working with children and child protection services, 167 social workers working with families and domestic violence prevention services and 136 social workers in 38 health and health services In addiction, there were reductions in addiction-treatment services, 67 in probation services, 81 in disabilities and 97 in projects for the elderly.
The study data also show the dramatic effects and the burden on the mental and physical health of social workers. Fully 77% reported suffering from anxiety and 20% from depression. Three-quarters said they were suffering from fatigue, and 50% had difficulty sleeping, while 59% said they had back pain and 30% had gastrointestinal problems.
Inbal Hermoni, chairman of the Union of Social Workers, commented that “under the guise of chaos, the general situation of social services is deteriorating alongside a dramatic increase in needs. The political situation and lack of budget lead to the closure of many projects that deepen public harm.”