By Zvi Zrahiya
National Insurance Institute benefits are expected to be NIS 1.1 billion lower in 2002 than forecasted, based on calculations from five months ago on which the NII projected its budget needs for next year.

This emerges from an update by the NII on data for average wages in the market and annual inflation. Some allowances are linked to the average salary and some to the inflation rate.

According to the updated NII forecast, average salaries in the economy will have gone up by just 1% in 2001, compared to an earlier projection of 3% to 4%.

Inflation for the year will probably be about 1%, compared to the 2.8% predicted earlier this year as the basis for NII calculations.

NII Director-General Yohanan Stasman yesterday presented the data to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in budget talks, and said that the NII's budget should not be cut in view of the reduced payouts it will make.

"Reducing the budget for social security at a time when there is much economic hardship among the public and at a time of lay-offs and lack of job opportunities is a grave social injustice. One should not hit at citizens who paid insurance for just such difficult times."

But he added: "At the same time, funding should be added to increase the number of people at the institute involved in investigation so as to prevent a situation where someone who is not eligible for benefits receives them in contravention of the law."