President Vladimir Putin:
Our meeting here today is taking place just before the State Council Presidium is due to meet. For the first time in the last several years it will make a thorough and all-round examination of social support for pensioners. This is the first time that all the different issues in this area will be looked at together. After talking with you it will be easier for me to get my bearings in discussions with the big bosses and understand what their thoughts are on how to resolve these problems.”
The veterans present raised many issues including the quality of medical care for veterans, the shortage of teachers in small town and village schools, the lack of equipment and technology in secondary schools and secondary-level vocational colleges and the question of benefits for people labouring on the home front during the War and people who were in the blockade of Leningrad.
On higher education prospects for graduates of village schools:
“The Education Ministry is currently carrying out an experiment –the single state exam. There are various views on its merits and I am not going to say now whether it is a good or a bad idea. But its aim is precisely to give all young people, no matter where they live, the chance to get into even the prestigious universities in the big cities without having to spend money on various tutors first. That is the main objective. So far this is just an experiment. We have yet to see if this aim will be achieved, but this is the point of the experiment.”
On benefits for people who were in the blockade of Leningrad:
“Regarding the question of benefits for categories such as people who were children during the blockade, it is true that only those who hold the medal “For the defence of Leningrad” are entitled to real benefits, and even then not all of them. There are some categories of people who have this medal but do not receive benefits. This includes people who worked on the Road of Life and people who began working in Leningrad but then were evacuated and continued working in other parts of the Soviet Union. There are also other categories. There are people who worked in the region, for example, and who have the medal but do not receive benefits. There are around 16,000 people in this situation. Of course this is an unfair situation. We have people who have the medal “For the defence of Leningrad,” that is to say, their services towards defending the city have been recognised, but we have ended up with two categories and we now have people who wear this medal by right and yet do not receive the same money. This is obviously a great injustice.
As for other categories of people, we will have to come back to this again. This also goes for people who toiled on the home front. This subject has been raised many times before and is well known. But there are different moods among the war veterans. Some of them say, ‘well, we understand, of course, that people worked hard and sometimes even risked their lives and went through the harsh conditions of those days of war, but we, we were at the front, we were facing the bullets.’ They want some kind of difference to be made. I think that there are some questions which are not generally even for the President to decide but are issues for the parliament. The question here is not even about the money. There is a moral aspect involved. Overall, I agree with you that there not so many people in this category still with us today, and so the government will look more closely at this question. There are various possible solutions. We could apply the approach taken overall for pensioners who have reached the age of 85. We could, say, drop the threshold to 75 and extend benefits to everyone, because the categories of people you are talking about would be precisely in this age group. This would be, essentially, a general regulation for everyone. But we could also look for other solutions. The government’s social specialists and the parliamentary deputies whose job it is to deal with these questions should reflect on and react to these opinions and, I think, these lawful desires of those raising this issue.”
The veterans criticised the content of what gets shown on television. Replying to these criticisms, Vladimir Putin said:
“Now turning to television and so on. Veterans regularly raise this issue. You say that your efforts to give young people a good upbringing are completely undermined by certain television programmes. I don’t think this is entirely the case. The veterans certainly do make a lot of effort in this area, and these efforts do bring results. I do agree with you, though, that some TV channels go too far with showing sex and violence. They often go too far. But I think that this is something that the organisations set up by the media outlets themselves should regulate. We cannot simply slap a ban on it all. Of course, we could simply give an order, but then we would no longer be living in the same country and would find ourselves living a completely different sort of life. The media professionals are aware of these issues that you have raised. We are in contact with them and we see that the media’s maturity and understanding of how important this problem is for the country are gradually increasing. You are right that we should draw attention to these problems more often in our contacts with the professional media organisations.”
On the situation in education:
“The level of education given to school pupils, the way teachers are paid and the way schools are equipped materially are very important questions that have been raised constantly over recent times, including in connection with teachers not getting paid their wages on time. This is not the case here, but there are regions where it is the case, and unfortunately quite often. This is often a result of problems in relations between the different levels of authorities, between municipal and federal authorities. In some towns, oblasts and regions this is still the case today. The mayor of a city, say, doesn’t get on with the governor, and the result is that people suffer. For this reason, and for other reasons, we will do what teachers have long since been asking us to do, and that is to make two issues at least, wages for teachers and providing schools with the material resources they need, a matter of state responsibility to be dealt with at regional level. This law has been passed now and came into effect on January 1 this year. Now we will see how it works in practice. This concerns teachers’ pay and also providing for schools materially – a very important question.”
On providing medicines for pensioners:
“The question of providing medicines for pensioners is very important, this issue of stocking what is supposed to be part of benefits provided and ends up not getting used. I think that the only way out is to raise pensions so as to enable them to buy what they want on the market. The government has a number of ideas and proposals in this area. Given the number of journalists here, though, I don’t want to make them public just yet.
No matter how nice it would be to fully bring back the Soviet health care system, it would be very complicated. How could we have a full return to the Soviet medical system with the modern market system we now have? They would not be compatible in their functioning. We would have to turn everything upside down, everything. This does not mean, however, that the basic principles of the Soviet-era health system should be completely done away with. They should definitely be preserved, and we have to do this, given the low incomes of our population. The state should provide support to these sectors – to health and education.”
On the cost of food:
“It was said here that the rising cost of food is a result of government policy that lets agricultural companies make money out of the situation on the grain market. I have already told the government many times to react to what is going on, or else prices will go up. They have not reacted fast enough. I think this is an oversight on the part of the government. They knew what was happening but did not take sufficiently swift action. All they did was limit grain exports. Whether this is good or bad is a separate issue, but we should try to keep prices within what people’s incomes enable them to afford.”
On social development in the countryside:
“The government has plans and ideas in this area and there is a social development programme for the countryside. This programme must be implemented. It is a good programme but it needs to be given real financial resources and extended to cover the whole country. Its aim is precisely to develop education and health and establish a support system for elderly people. This all seems simple enough, but it requires money. The programme exists, however, and we will expand it and give it real financial backing. Much else depends on this, of course, including personnel. As for state support for agriculture, we would have to say, especially to those who live and work in the countryside, that the state should be doing more than it has been. But to be fair, it is providing some support. This includes tax support, and some additional decisions were made recently in this area. The law “On unification of taxation in agricultural production,” was passed, for example, and it reduces the tax burden on agricultural businesses and generally reduces and simplifies taxation. I hope that this will inject some health and vigour into the agricultural sector in general. But this is not all that has been done. You know what we are doing in terms of providing loans for crops, helping organise leasing of agricultural technology and the measures we took last year regarding the import of agricultural goods to Russia. This has already had a positive effect for domestic producers, above all in livestock. We plan to continue this policy, but carefully. Why I say ‘carefully’ is because different economic sectors should be in a more or less equal situation so as to give every sector a chance to develop. We can’t try and pull our tails out of the mud only to fall flat on our faces, and then get our faces clear only to end up with our tails back in the mud. We need to follow a balanced policy that takes into account the interests of all the different economic sectors. Agriculture is of immense importance because it is not just a job. It is the destiny and way of life of millions of our citizens. We will continue to follow this balanced policy.”
“Regarding the question of generally raising pensions and providing better social guarantees for all elderly people and pensioners, I agree that today’s level is insufficient. Of course, we cannot just make one great leap forward overnight so as not to throw our entire economic system out of balance. I would recall only that pensions have tripled since January 1, 2000. The real increase, taking into account price rises and inflation comes to a solid figure of 82 percent. Military pensions have risen the most. Since October 1, 2003, the average military pension has more than doubled compared to what it was in July 2000. The practice of indexing pensions for all categories of pensioners will continue. Pensions will be indexed this year too. Overall, this year’s budget allocates more money for all of this. The funds allocated this year come to almost 76 billion roubles, which is more than 5.4 times higher than in 1999. This is quite a lot of money, but not yet enough for each individual to feel a big change in their own lives.
I have listened to you with attention and noted many points made. I promise that these issues will be raised today in discussions with the governors who are members of the State Council Presidium. Following this meeting, the relevant instructions will be given to the government, which will definitely begin work on them. Everything said here today was necessary and of importance, and I am very grateful to you for this.”