Subjects discussed at the meeting included national social policy priorities, pension system development, improving senior citizens’ quality of life, healthcare services, recreation and leisure opportunities, and giving them a bigger place in society.
Taking part in the meeting were Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets, Labour and Social Protection Minister Maxim Topilin, Healthcare Minister Veronika Skvortsova, Mayor of Moscow Sergei Sobyanin, Presidential Aide Elvira Nabiullina, Chairman of the Social Policy Committee of the Council of Federation and President of the Union of Pensioners Valery Ryazansky, and representatives of public charity and volunteer groups and organisations.
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Speech at meeting with veterans and public organisations representatives
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, friends.
Here today are officials from the federal agencies and Moscow City government, and representatives of public and veterans’ organisations.
Our meeting is taking place on Senior Citizens’ Day. This day, not just in Russia, but all around the world, has come to symbolise the particular attention society pays to senior citizens’ issues and the responsibility we all have towards our parents and those who have devoted their lives to their country, people, children, and society.
”Ensuring decent conditions for senior citizens’ life is a big task involving many different aspects, and we can resolve it only if the authorities, business, NGOs, volunteers and religious organisations all join forces and make a common effort.“
Seeing as this meeting is taking place on Senior Citizens’ Day, it should focus on senior citizens’ issues, all the more so as we have people professionally involved in precisely this area present, and I will therefore start by giving a few statistics. I am sure that many of you are familiar with them already, but these are nonetheless some of the latest figures and give quite an accurate picture.
Russia had a total of 40.2 million pensioners as at January 1, 2012, of which 33 percent had retired because they had reached retirement age. This puts almost one in five people in the Russian Federation above the retirement age. One in five people.
National average life expectancy came to 70.3 years in 2011 – an increase of 3.7 years compared to 2006. This is quite good progress overall. The life expectancy figure for men is still quite low at 64.3 years, but at the same time, there has been an of almost 4 years’ increase compared to 2006. Average life expectancy for women is 76.1 years, which is an increase of almost three years compared to the 2006 figure.
Our target is to achieve average life expectancy of at least 74 years by 2018, with an average figure of 68.9 years for men and 79.6 years for women. The overall share of senior citizens in the population will continue to grow steadily.
Ensuring decent conditions for senior citizens’ life is a big task involving many different aspects, and we can resolve it only if the authorities, business, NGOs, volunteers and religious organisations all join forces and make a common effort. Not only is this work hugely important for millions of people in Russia, but it has a particular moral dimension too. The life of our senior citizens, their quality of life, is the measure by which we judge the government’s effectiveness and the moral state of our society.
The authorities have direct responsibility for establishing a sustainable and balanced pension system that takes into account citizens’ labour contributions and makes it possible to pay decent pensions.
The Russian authorities have never shirked this responsibility. Even during the crisis, when the economy and the macroeconomic situation were experiencing great difficulties, we increased pensions substantially.
”The authorities have direct responsibility for establishing a sustainable and balanced pension system that takes into account citizens’ labour contributions and makes it possible to pay decent pensions.“
Now the Government has drafted a pension system development strategy through to 2030. I was told that the draft has just been submitted to the Presidential Executive Office. I think the Government should definitely organise the broadest possible discussion on this matter given its key social and economic importance.
I know that the Labour and Social Protection Ministry published the document on its website recently, but there was not enough time for the expert community, public organisations, and the Public Council to study it properly. It takes time to get fully immersed in the subject. Of course, I too will make a thorough study of the strategy’s proposals. I ask the Government to go back and organise the broadest possible discussion, this time not just with the Labour and Social Protection Ministry’s officials, but with the Government Cabinet, above all the deputy prime ministers responsible for social issues and for the economy too. Working from this Government base the Open Government system should also be brought into play here and become a tool we can use to properly analyse and discuss this issue from all the different angles.
One thing I particularly stress is that we must preserve what we have already achieved so far and ensure long-term development of a pensions system that is fair, just, and reliable. Of course, senior citizens’ quality of life cannot be measured by the size of their pensions alone. We also should give senior citizens a genuinely comfortable environment in general. People who want to work and play an active part in social and cultural life should have the chance to do so. We are to give people opportunities for self-realisation. At the same time, we also have to ensure full and real care for those no longer able to take care of their own needs.
”Senior citizens’ quality of life cannot be measured by the size of their pensions alone. We also should give senior citizens a genuinely comfortable environment in general.“
State social spending has increased 2.5-fold over recent years. We are not talking about mere percentage points here but about a much more substantial increase. At the same time however, we do recognise that most people have yet to see real evidence of an improvement in social services. We are spending ever more money but still not getting the quality we want. We have to see a return on each ruble invested, and to achieve this will require making a transition from estimate-based funding to payment for actual services provided. This has proven an effective policy in practically all social areas. [Mayor of Moscow] Mr Sobyanin applied this approach during his time in Tyumen, when he was governor there, and in the government, and now is carrying out these policies in Moscow, and quite effectively too, I think.
Let me say, too, that social sector workers’ pay does not match the stress and intensity of their work. In the executive orders I issued in May, I set the objective of bringing social sector employees’ pay up to the regional average wage by 2018. To be honest, it makes me ashamed to speak of it. We made the decision recently to raise wages in the culture sector by an average of 30–33 percent. These wage rises do not apply to every person in the sector. As for the social sector, wages in this sector are only 35.5 percent of the average national wage. This is a disgrace, really, and I draw the regional governors’ attention to this issue. The objectives I stated in the May executive orders must be reached by 2018, and this means taking the required steps and measures, starting from next year. In other words, this means really raising the wages of the people working in this very important sector. This is not just about our attitude towards social sector workers, after all, but about how we treat our older people.
There are public and religious organisations, volunteers and philanthropists who selflessly help senior citizens and do so very professionally and – most important – in all sincerity.
The local and regional authorities should work more actively together with social sector NGOs and cast aside the various stereotypes and prejudices that still exist in this respect. We are to make public-private partnerships a key instrument of social policy.
Certainly, we also have to give public-private partnerships in the social sector a clear legislative framework. The mechanisms should be clearly set out above all in the law on basic social provision for the population that the Labour and Social Protection Ministry is currently drafting.
”We have no restrictions on using charity organisations’ funds and aid, including from abroad. NGOs or private organisations should have the chance to provide social services on an equal footing with the state-provided services.“
Mr Topilin, what stage are you at in this work?
Labour and Social Protection Minister Maxim Topilin: We have gone through several approvals stages among the various ministries and discussed the document through the open government framework on the ministry’s website. Now, acting on [Deputy Prime Minister] Ms Golodets’ instruction, we are going through the draft with Civic Chamber members. I will not hide that we still have a number of issues to settle with the Economy and Finance Ministries, but I think we will be able to find solutions here. If the Civic Chamber gives us its proposed amendments soon I think we will be able to rework the draft and have it ready by the end of the year, and then there will be the legal experts, the Presidential Executive Office, and the other procedures. Overall, I think the document is quite close to being ready. Our colleagues from the Civic Chamber should be able to help us here and set out their thoughts on what we should change and adjust.
Vladimir Putin: Just as with the pension system development strategy, you are to organise broad public discussion.
Maxim Topilin: Yes, this is just what we are doing. We have discussed the document in the State Duma and the Council of Federation.
CHAIRWOMAN OF THE CIVIC CHAMBER COMMISSION ON SOCIAL POLICY, LABOUR RELATIONS, AND PEOPLE’S QUALITY OF LIFE YELENA TOPOLEVA-SOLDUNOVA: Mr President, I am the chairperson of the Civic Chamber’s social policy commission. We are about to send our proposed amendments to the law this evening as it happens. Most of our proposals are about what you just talked about: the need for competition in the social services sector and separating the functions of those contracting and providing the social services, so as to give NGOs and private business the chance to compete too. We think that the more competition, the more effective service provision will be.
Vladimir Putin: Absolutely, and I was going to make precisely this point. We have to ensure that NGOs and organisations of all legal forms should be able to compete to receive state and regional funds.
Yelena Topoleva-Soldunova: Yes, this is absolutely right. In some regions this system is also working and producing very good results. The main thing now is to make sure we spread this best practice. In St Petersburg, for example, we have a school for foster parents, and non-commercial organisations bid on an exclusively competitive basis to organise these courses. This kind of approach is working well in Tyumen, Perm, and Moscow, but unfortunately, it is still a long way from being applied everywhere yet.
”The state will retain the key responsibility for ensuring the conditions for senior citizens in these establishments, but NGOs can help in organising cultural programmes, repairs, and purchasing equipment. Projects of this kind are already underway.“
We cannot dictate to the regions what they should do. The Constitution does not allow us to set such binding instructions, but with the help of this law we can at least try to set the direction so as to spread examples of best practice throughout the whole country. We have to make the amendments to the law that will enable it to work this way.
Vladimir Putin: Good.
Another problem I want to draw to your attention is that of using charity funds. Let me make it clear that we have no restrictions on using charity organisations’ funds and aid, including from abroad. Indeed, this is only welcomed. If private individuals and organisations want to help pensioners, children, people with disabilities, let me say again that we will only welcome and support this.
For our part, we are increasing the support fund for NGOs, including Russian organisations with a social-sector focus. As you have no doubt heard, we plan to allocate up to 3 billion rubles [$100 million] from the federal budget for these organisations’ work.
The overall logic is that NGOs or private organisations should have the chance to provide social services on an equal footing with the state-provided services, as Ms Topoleva-Soldunova was saying just now.
I hope that the quality of social services will increase at the same time. We will have to draft criteria for evaluating organisations’ performance in this area. We should have an independent evaluation system ready and in place by April 1, 2013. This system will cover criteria for evaluating organisations’ effectiveness in the social sector, and a system of public ratings of their performance.
Let me say a few words now about the specific areas of our work together. I will begin with provision of help to senior citizens who, for reasons of age and health, require special care. This is above all the case of people living on their own.
We have a network of homes for the elderly, around 4,000 of them, 99 percent of which are run by the regional authorities, with the remaining slightly more than one percent in private hands.
Unfortunately, many of these establishments are in not as good a state as this one that we are visiting today. This building was built in 1975, but the city authorities look after it well. Mr Sobyanin has even promised additional repairs to the façade.
Sergei Sobyanin: This is the last stage.
Vladimir Putin: Just don’t say it’s the last of the money too.
Sergei Sobyanin: No, it’s not the last of the money.
Vladimir Putin: Overall around the country – as I discussed just before with veterans’ council – there are more than 600 buildings that are all but unfit for use now and in urgent need of total renovation. I hope the regional authorities will come up with the additional funding to ensure that our senior citizens live in decent and civilized conditions.
For our part, aside from the funds already earmarked in the budget, we will put an additional 350 million rubles from the Presidential Reserve Fund into supporting social institutions. This comes to half of the fund’s annual spending. I ask the Labour and Social Protection Ministry to draft proposals on specific establishments, and the Presidential Executive Office to draft the relevant instruction.
Overall, we also should change the mechanisms and substantially improve the technical equipment of the social establishments for senior citizens. They must meet modern standards and be accessible, including for people with health problems and disabilities.
Of course, the state will retain the key responsibility for ensuring the conditions for senior citizens in these establishments, but NGOs can help in organising cultural programmes, repairs, and purchasing equipment. Projects of this kind are already underway.
”Senior citizens should be able to receive all the necessary social services at home. We need to make a thorough study of Russia’s own experience and world practice and draw on the best examples of patron services and the most advanced individual care methods and technology.“
Most senior citizens, however, prefer to remain in their familiar home environment. They should be able to receive all the necessary social services at home. We need to make a thorough study of Russia’s own experience and world practice and draw on the best examples of patron services and the most advanced individual care methods and technology. This is an area where effective cooperation between the state authorities and NGOs is particularly important.
Another matter is that we are to pay serious attention to improving medical services for senior citizens, not just in specialised centres but also in ordinary medical centres and at home, as I said. People should not have to wait in lines, but we know that this problem still persists in many places. Constant effort is required too, to improve provision of medicines and so on.
Organising senior citizens’ leisure and getting them more involved in public life are very important areas of NGOs’ work in the social sector. I think the regional and local authorities should give these organisations and volunteers all necessary organisational and other support.
Protecting senior citizens’ social and economic rights is a meticulous task that must continue every single day. Very often it happens that senior citizens need to obtain information on all manner of different social protection issues, and of course it is hard for them to go into battle against housing organisations or officials who do not do their jobs properly and procrastinate with decisions or even try to shrug off responsibility for senior citizens’ problems altogether.
I think that NGOs and public organisations should be active and energetic here and defend senior citizens’ interests and rights using all lawful means available.
I know that the people here today are all actively involved in this area of such importance for the country. So, let’s discuss all the issues that I mentioned, as well as any other issues you want to raise at this meeting.
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”Organising senior citizens’ leisure and getting them more involved in public life are very important areas of NGOs’ work in the social sector. I think the regional and local authorities should give these organisations and volunteers all necessary organisational and other support.“
Vladimir Putin: Colleagues, in conclusion, I would like to say the following. The traditions of nearly all the peoples of the Russian Federation, including ethnic Russians, other bigger peoples, and minority groups, have always included a special respect for the elderly, and there is great national wisdom in that. Under modern conditions, on account of urbanisation and the decay or erosion of certain traditional values, we often witness careless attitudes toward the elderly. But this represents a mine that could one day detonate all the foundations of our society. Why do the traditions of all the peoples of the Russian Federation, as well as the former Soviet Union, include particular respect for the elderly generation? Because they are the bearers of our traditions and culture – and I mean culture in the broadest sense of the word, the moral origins that lie at the foundation of any society. If it is eroded, then society itself begins to unravel. So we do not have the right to treat members of the elder generation as obsolescent. Maintaining a caring attitude toward the elderly is a truly important social, humanitarian and governmental objective.
Of course, in recent years we have made some progress in this respect. I am referring to increasing pensions and providing housing to veterans, although this task is not yet finished, but it is progressing and will certainly be addressed the same way as the problem of medicines. Just to mention, recently we lived in a time when we spoke about the need for medicines provision in general and at reduced price, but there weren’t any discounted pharmaceuticals at all since there were no government funding for their supply. Now, the situation is changing, even though we are facing many problems in this area.
Some Russian federal constituent entities that are giving these matters very careful attention, include Belgorod, Moscow, Samara, Magnitogorsk and many other regions. But ultimately, there are many places that still have quite a few problems. I must say that it’s not just in rural areas, but in major urban centres as well, including cities with populations of over one million. Our country has many problems overall in providing dignified standards and quality of life for the elderly.
I want to thank everyone present at today’s vent, and not just you personally, but everyone who is working with you and all members of public associations – first and foremost, I want to thank them for the work they are doing and call on government agencies to face all these problems head-on.
I have arranged with [Healthcare Minister] Ms Skvortsova to receive corresponding information on all the issues raised here today, by December. But I will ask Minister Topilin to analyse everything that is happening in this area, in order for today’s meeting to be more than a conversation on an important given topic, but also a trigger for us to delve deeper into all these problems, to understand what is happening in this area, to identify the weakest links and sore spots. And I will ask you to make suggestions regarding this – the approaches and pace we are to move forward, in order to make the lives of the elderly more dignified.
Thank you very much and goodbye.