The President visited the Kashirsky Nursing Home for senior citizens and people with disabilities before the start of the meeting and examined the Home’s facilities and living conditions, visited the medical centre, dining hall, and library.
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Speech at State Council Presidium
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,
We are here today to discuss social protection for senior citizens. This is a very important, very sensitive issue that concerns nearly a quarter of our country’s population. Today, we will discuss the package of measures we need to take in this area, in keeping with our demographic and economic possibilities of course.
We are meeting in Voronezh because the region’s governor headed the working group. It must be said too that the region is showing initiative in addressing this matter of social protection. We looked over some of the facilities here and we all saw that they look to be worthy models for our emulation and respect.
Let me start by saying that we have succeeded in increasing the average life expectancy for the country as a whole. The figure is still lower than in some countries. Average life expectancy in Russia today is nearly 70.8 years. As I said, this is lower than in some countries, but it is four years more than the figure we had in 2006.
Our task now is to bring average life expectancy up to at least 74 years by 2018 and to 75.7 years in 2020. To achieve this we will need to give pensioners a better quality of life, and let me stress that we need to see improvement in all parts of the country.
At the same time, we have to realise that different groups of pensioners have different needs, aspirations and demands, and overall can no longer be seen as a single group of weak, defenceless people in need of the state’s constant care and support.
There are quite a few senior citizens in Russia these days who you would be hard pressed to call ‘old’ in terms of their appearance and state of health. It is not by chance that the new term ‘third-age people’ has spread around the world. Many people remain professionally, socially and publicly active at this age, travel, and play sport. Their ability to organise a healthy lifestyle is often a good example for younger people. One in three pensioners continues to work. I draw your attention to this statistic because it is important – one in three senior citizens is still working.
Of course we do have many people who are in difficult circumstances, facing loneliness, inability to take care of themselves, often serious illnesses. These people need on-going and good quality medical care and effective social support, including at home. We saw today examples of how home help can be organised.
The most important things here are care, charity and attention. We need to get volunteers involved in this work, support foster families that take on the job of looking after senior citizens and people with disabilities, and be active in developing home-based social support services.
The time is long since ripe in our society for a new and modern policy towards senior citizens. It has to be based on a differentiated approach and on creating conditions for ensuring both active old age and effective support for those who really do need help.
Implementing this new policy will require radical changes in the way the social protection, healthcare, and education systems work. We will need to adjust a number of sector-based programmes and put more focus on developing the non-state social services provision sector.
We cannot resolve all of these problems overnight of course, and so I agree with the State Council working group’s proposal to draft a common action strategy for senior citizens. Let me mention the main areas we need to take into account in this strategy.
Employment is a key issue. This is important for raising pensioners’ incomes and for giving them a feeling that they are needed and useful to society.
We have an ever greater need for experienced personnel. Many managers have begun to realise that the older generation can make a positive contribution to developing production and that we need to make greater use of specialists’ potential as experts.
It is true that not all senior citizens manage to keep up with the demands of the times. We need mechanisms for repeat integration into professions and re-training programmes for professions in demand on the job market. We also need programmes teaching computer and internet skills.
Let me stress too the importance of raising senior citizens’ financial literacy. Pensioners are active clients of credit organisations, but we cannot call them confident users of various banking products at this point. The reasons are clear: this is a sector that has undergone drastic change. Many senior citizens are probably not well informed about the possibilities today, accessibility, and security. In any case, this is an area that needs our continued attention.
It is imperative to adapt them to modern possibilities in terms of trade, catering, communications and transport. Let me stress that these organisational, informational, educational objectives must be resolved mainly at the regional and municipal level.
One of our priorities is maintaining and improving senior citizens’ health. Their need for medical services is 1.5 times higher than that of middle-aged people; they are hospitalized nearly 3 times as often. However, the medical service they receive often leaves something to be desired; much needs to be changed here. It is not okay when elderly people encounter indifference, spend long hours in queues, often simply to get a prescription, and thus lose a whole day.
These problems exist everywhere – I say this with regret. We must consider measures for encouraging healthcare authorities to treat senior citizens with attention and care, which should include more actively developing gerontological services and better training experts in this domain.
The next topic is organising their leisure time. Many senior citizens have the opportunity to work in their free time, but they also need to use the time they have outside of work. This includes creative pursuits, socialising and sports. The necessary infrastructure is already being built in many major cities – and not just within the social services system, but also in culture, education, sports and tourism. Civil society institutions and regional offices of the leading political parties are getting involved in this work. We certainly need to take advantage of their experience in drafting the Strategy.
Another priority objective is developing the social services market, increasing the quality of and access to such services. And the first thing I want to point out is the implementation of the law On Basic Principles of Social Service for Citizens in Russia. It comes into force on January 1, 2015 and stipulates many important organisational changes.
These changes need to be implemented wisely and carefully; the most important thing is not to ruin anything. What’s most critical is not to lower the quality and quantity of medical and social services, so that people who need constant assistance do not suffer.
Colleagues, I am asking today’s speakers, and those who will be speaking, to talk about interdepartmental coordination on this issue as well as about drafting of legislative acts. There should be quite a few of them: 49.
We will also need to discuss measures that need to be taken to get the businesses involved in the social services sector. The working group suggests introducing tax incentives for such organisations. Let’s look into this suggestion, as well as the working group’s other proposals, taking into account that it’s imperative to broaden participation by the nongovernmental sector in providing services to senior citizens. Currently, they account for just over 1% of the players in this area. And I want to once again stress the significance of volunteer initiatives to care for senior citizens. The regions and municipalities must provide active support for such initiatives.
Colleagues, I mentioned just a few areas (far from all of them) that require special attention. This is a very complex issue, as I said in the beginning, an issue of enormous scale. And we must do everything possible so that these challenges are resolved effectively and quickly, so that senior citizens can realise their plans, be healthy, feel comfortable, and receive the services they need. We must create conditions to ensure that their professional experience and knowledge are needed in society, so that retirement does not lower their social status, and on the contrary, provides them additional opportunities for an active and full life.
In conclusion, I would like to say the following. We are working on an issue that directly concerns a quarter of our nation’s population.
First of all, in any civilised society and state, it is always a direct duty of the government institutions and public organisations to take care of the elderly. And second, I want to stress that this concerns not only senior citizens, but the entire nation, people of all ages. Because when people see and know that the government cares about its senior citizens, they treat their country and their government differently; they even plan their lives differently, in the sense that there is a reliable system of state support and cares for people. And this always creates internal stability in any nation, in any society. This is no less important for us than any other nation.
So I want to thank the participants in the working group who worked on this issue and say that we do not feel that we have discussed everything here and that all the most effective suggestions have been made. We will continue working on these issues.
Thank you very much.