Taking part in the meeting were Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko, Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets, Presidential Aide Igor Levitin, the heads of federal ministries and agencies, and a number of regional governors.
Before the meeting began, Mr Putin visited the Cherepovets Steel Mill (Severstal), where he discussed support for motherhood with the plant’s workers.
* * *
SpeechattheStateCouncilPresidiummeetingonfamily, motherhoodandchildhood policy
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues.
First of all, let me thank the State Council Presidium for addressing this subject of state support for families, motherhood and childhood. The improvement in the demographic situation over recent years makes this a key issue and something we are working on, and so it is always important to keep it at the centre of our attention.
I visited the steelworks just before this meeting and spoke with the employees there. Overall they are positive in their assessments, but they nonetheless have some questions and particular concerns, and would like to see some adjustments or additions. I hope that we will have the chance to discuss all of these matters today.
Putting in place the right conditions for an increase in births, protecting motherhood and childhood, and strengthening the family as an institution are priority social tasks for Russia. They are crucially important for our country’s present and future and require systemic and coordinated work from the authorities at all levels, as well as from the public, from our citizens. This work must have clear and common objectives and a clear understanding of how we will achieve them.
It is timely that the State Council Presidium is discussing these issues, timely too because the Government is currently in the process of drafting a family policy concept document.
”Putting in place the right conditions for an increase in births, protecting motherhood and childhood, and strengthening the family as an institution are priority social tasks for Russia.“
The main task for the state in this area is to create conditions for the stable wellbeing of families. Several factors are involved here: primarily these are the family income, housing, accessibility and quality of education and healthcare, the physical and spiritual health of children and adults, and many other things.
This principle should form the foundation of the concept and the state policy on families. To achieve this we need to change significantly the objectives of family policy as a whole. Until now, it has been directed mainly at those who have found themselves in a difficult situation and need social security.
This is undoubtedly a very important aspect of our work that needs to be continued, and it will be continued. However, the state should create conditions for raising the living standards and the quality of life for regular Russian families, to raise their prestige in society, bearing in mind that, apart from the state, it is primarily the family that should be responsible for children’s lives.
I would like to focus on a number of issues that require our special attention and discussion. Much has been done lately to raise the importance of family, to establish its leading role in bringing up children. We have instituted special state and regional awards for large families.
We are especially happy to note that the birth rate continues to grow. Last year – we have cited these numbers on numerous occasions – 1.9 million babies were born, which is almost 5,000 more than in 2012. For the first time since 1991, Russia has seen a natural population growth. This is the result both of a decline in the death rate and an increase in the birth rate.
It is of course wonderful when children are born, and it is important for them to be surrounded with love. They should grow up healthy and receive a solid education so that they can apply their talents and abilities as they enter into adulthood and start families of their own.
The media, political parties and public organisations should take an active part in promoting the values of responsible parenthood and healthy living. There is a huge scope of work for them here. I suggest discussing today the efforts required to develop such a family-oriented information and educational policy.
The key issue is to raise the incomes of families with children. This is directly linked to economic development and the creation of new production facilities and, consequently, high quality jobs. This is our long-term priority that we need to focus on now.
Primarily we need to create conditions for parents to have active careers. We have to propagate the efforts of those employers who provide jobs to women who have young children and to parents of disabled children.
This is not only support to families with children; it is also an investment: a company’s reputation depends to a large extend on its attention to employees’ needs. By the way, here in Vologda Region, in Cherepovets, families with children receive various types of support.
Thus, at Severstal, which we visited earlier, pregnant women either are relieved or are redirected to light labour, while their average salary is retained. The women themselves were happy to report this today. PhosAgro runs a similar programme.
”The main task for the state in this area is to create conditions for the stable wellbeing of families.“
Another acute problem is the lack of preschools. Thus, today less than half of all preschools in the country have facilities for children under the age of three. We know what this leads to: we do everything to help mothers with continuing education or job training, adopt measures to assist in their employment, and all these efforts go to waste because they cannot find childcare facilities. Possibly, we will have to consider extending social benefits for women from 18 months to 3 years after childbirth.
It is always best to create proper conditions, but they have to be such that people can get good jobs and receive higher pay rather than depend on social benefits. However, this should be done properly, so that people have true social security. If, however, we cannot properly organise their employment and provide preschool facilities, we should consider raising social benefits. Preschools are currently unavailable for over 1.5 million children. We have to develop the system of childcare for infants under the age of three. This calls for supporting relevant business projects and helping volunteer groups to participate in these efforts.
Now over to preschools for children aged three to seven. This used to be one of our most acute issues, and it has not been fully resolved yet, though we are working on it. Overall, as of January 1, 2014, 425,000 children nationwide were on the waiting list for preschool childcare. The waiting list is getting shorter, though not as fast as we would like it to. However, we are making some progress.
Nevertheless, the problem remains in a number of regions. I would like to ask the heads of those regions to pay special attention to this issue. The situation is especially difficult in 17 regions of the Russian Federation, where the number of children on the waiting list for preschool childcare exceeds 10% of the overall number of children aged 3 to 7. I will not name those regions now, as I am sure their leadership is aware of the situation.
We also need to analyse the effectiveness of social benefits for families with children. As I have already said, these benefits mainly come in the form of monetary allowances, which are usually very modest and have little impact on the family budget.
I believe we should consider the proposal made by the State Council working group to increase allowances for families with children based on a social contract. To be precise, I would actually suggest expanding the population groups that are eligible for such benefits rather than raising the allowances themselves.
Another issue is assistance to large families. Last year 65 regions of the Russian Federation launched an absolutely new measure alongside the maternity capital programme. Thus, on the birth of their third and every consecutive child, a family receives an allowance of about 7,000 rubles a month until that child reaches the age of 3.
In 50 regions of the Russian Federation that have an unfavourable demographic situation, the allowances are co-financed from the federal budget. Meanwhile the criteria for such allowances differ: in some regions, they are based on per capita family income, in others – on an infant’s subsistence rate in a given region. We need to discuss which of these approaches is more justified and help large families to make better use of government aid.
Yet another issue is family instability. Every year some 51,000 parents in Russia are limited in their parental rights, or are totally stripped of such rights. As a result, almost 62,000 children are orphaned while their parents are still alive – we call such children social orphans.
We have done much last year to resolve this, to place children in foster or substitute families. However, our main job – and I am certain you will agree – is to reunite the children with their natural parents. This is not an easy job. Sometimes it is easier for the social services to isolate such children from their dysfunctional families. However, we should do everything possible to help the family, to help people who have found themselves in a difficult situation to get back to normal life.
A special federal foundation has been functioning since 2008, which provides support for children who have found themselves in difficult situations. I would like to hear what the regions and municipalities are doing in this respect.
I would like to say a few words now about non-commercial organisations that support families with children. They are assisting in the parents’ education and employment; they help large families and take part in resolving the issues faced by children with disabilities. These people deserve every respect for their selfless efforts, and the government should certainly support them in their honourable work. Let us consider what local, regional and federal authorities can do here.
Finally, there is a number of topics on our agenda that deal with housing for orphans and support for parents of disabled children. We need to consider all these issues today – this is something our citizens have to deal with practically on a daily basis.
”The key issue is to raise the incomes of families with children. This is directly linked to economic development and the creation of new production facilities and, consequently, high quality jobs. This is our long-term priority that we need to focus on now.“
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.
There is a good reason why we are holding this meeting here in Cherepovets, in Vologda Region: Vologda Region Governor Mr Kuvshinnikov is the head of the State Council working group on this particular issue.
I would like to thank him and all those who took part in this work. I have seen the documents you prepared: you approached the job with great care, considered the current situation in every detail and came up with interesting proposals. Today we have gathered to consider all these proposals, which we have touched upon in the course of our work. Everything we speak about today was discussed during the preparations for this meeting.
I do not intend to go through everything we talked about one more time. I would only like to note that our joint efforts to resolve demographic issues, to strengthen families, to support motherhood and childhood do not end here with this meeting. Mr Savchenko [Belgorod Region Governor] has just told us why.
We are in for some hard times considering the fact that percentage wise, the number of Russians who will be soon entering adulthood and starting families of their own will be smaller than in the previous period. Fewer people were born in the 1990s and this creates certain problems.
Therefore, some years ago we started formulating our policy, suggesting various ways of stimulating the birth rate. Our task is to find further solutions to this problem, because it has definitely not been resolved yet.
Take, for instance, the situation with preschools. We should definitely support those families and those women who want to both raise children and carry on with their careers. A number of factors motivate them: young people do not want to lose their skills, they want to retain their place on the labour market and to progress in their careers.
However, there are other concerns here that we should not disregard. Unfortunately, despite all our efforts to encourage families to have children, the birth of a child is a heavy financial burden for a family. I am sure you are all aware of this.
Some 20% of all children live in families that regularly have to overcome such problems as buying new clothes and footwear, getting access to medical services and paying for medicines. 16% of children live in families that struggle even with meeting their nutritional needs, and a large number of children now live in families that have housing problems. These are all fundamental conditions for the normal development of society and family, and children in particular. We need to keep this in mind.
This does not mean, of course, that all we should do is take money from the federal budget and allocate it blindly to resolve these issues. Why not? Because this is often not the most efficient solution. We must bring together the efforts of municipalities, regional and federal authorities, as well as the business community, the way it is done here at Severstal and at other companies.
We must coordinate our efforts to look for efficient solutions, so that the public can get involved in this work as well. I have every reason to believe that we can do it, as we have proved in the past. As I already mentioned, some seven or eight years ago any sort of progress in this area seemed impossible.
Nevertheless, the situation has changed, and we are making headway, even though it may be slow. We should not cease our efforts; we must consider all the proposals made today and those that the governors came up with as they prepared for this meeting, and move forward.