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Last Updated: Monday, 23 January 2006, 18:47 GMT
Quarter of Israel suffers poverty
A homeless Israeli man sleeps on the street in downtown Tel Aviv.
Some 1.6 million Israelis live in poverty
Nearly one in four Israelis lives in poverty, an official report has shown.

Almost 1.6 million people are impoverished, up 45% over the last five years, the National Insurance Institute said on Monday, based on 2004-05 data.

Anyone earning less than 1,777 shekels ($358) a month, which was half the national average salary in 2004, was classed as impoverished by the report.

In recent years austerity measures have slashed welfare payments in a bid to kick-start Israel's sluggish economy.

Election issue

"This is not a tsunami or a cyclone that has taken us by surprise," the director of the National Insurance Institute, Ygal Ben Shalom, was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency. "We rub shoulders with poverty every day."

Mr Ben Shalom said 46,000 more people fell into poverty between mid 2004 and mid 2005, the period covered by the report.

"Thirty-four percent of children in Israel are considered paupers," he added.

Poverty affects more Arab Israeli families than Jewish Israeli ones.

It is a major issue in political campaigning for Israel's general election on March 28.

The left-wing Labour party has vowed to address the economic and social problems of the country's of seven million people.

Recent opinion polls put Labour in second place behind the newly formed centrist Kadima party of ailing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

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