The following is a guest post by Russian Federation Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Social policy has many objectives and many dimensions. It entails providing support for the poor and those who are unable to earn a living for valid reasons. It means implementing social mobility and providing a level playing field for every person on the basis of his or her capabilities and talents. The effectiveness of social policy is measured by whether popular opinion believes the society we live in is a just one or not.
We have a much higher level of social guarantees than countries with a comparable level of labour productivity and per capita incomes. We have made great strides in improving the situation in the demographic sphere, in pensions and in reducing poverty. We have achieved tangible results in the fields of education, healthcare and culture.
But Russian citizens are by no means satisfied with the current situation, and their dissatisfaction is perfectly justified. Today we have to discuss the as yet unresolved issues, as well as the objectives which must form the agenda for the next stage of Russia’s development.
Our system of social mobility functions badly and inconsistently. The glaring income disparity is unacceptably high. Every eighth Russian citizen still lives below the official poverty line. The decline in the national workforce and an increasingly ageing population means the efficiency of social spending has to be increased. People of different vocations, including businesspeople, workers, specialists and state employees, must be given the opportunities to realise their potential, as well as opportunities for professional and social growth.
I am sure that we must develop new economic sectors and continue to develop the processing sector, agriculture and modern transport and intellectual services. This will allow us to perceive Russia as a more equitable country where everyone earns his or her income with their own labour and talent. And the government will provide targeted assistance to those who cannot earn an income or are too young to work.
Assisting families with children is becoming a priority. It is absolutely unacceptable for the birth of a child to bring a family to the edge of poverty. A national goal for the next three or four years is to make this totally impossible. I propose introducing special benefits for the birth of a third and subsequent children in the regions where the population continues to decline. Families where per capita income is not higher than the average in their region will have the right to apply for such child allowances.
Affordable housing is an important prerequisite for improving the territorial mobility of our citizens and enhancing economic competition between urban areas and regions. We will proceed to develop a non-profit rental market for prospective low-income tenants. Today, we assist war veterans, servicemen and new families to buy property. I would like to mention that we will continue this practice – for new families with children, in particular. This is not enough, however. The middle class must have an opportunity to buy property through mortgages Mortgage payments must decrease along with lowering inflation rates. And last but not least, we will increase support of young families and public sector workers in covering mortgage interest. Taken together, [this will] resolve the issue in full by 2030.
Since the 1990s, organisational and economic reforms have been implemented, managerial systems changed, and external assessment mechanisms introduced. This has so far failed to lead to any noticeable changes in the quality of education or healthcare.
I believe that healthcare and education reforms are only possible when they guarantee decent pay for public sector professionals. A doctor, teacher or professor should be able to earn enough on their basic jobs not to have to seek outside earnings. If we fail to fulfil this condition our efforts to change the organisation of the economic mechanisms and renew the material base of these sectors will come to nothing.
Investment in education will be our key budget priority. Not only does education mean that we are training a workforce for the economy, it is also a crucial factor in the social development of society, one that shapes our values and unites us. Our system of education should be able to meet the challenges of the times, but this does not mean that we will give up our most important achievement – the accessibility of education. We need to ensure social equality in education. Schools working in difficult social conditions – as opposed to prestigious “gymnasiums” and “lyceums” which for the most part only work with socially stable children – must be given special support, including methodology, staff and financial assistance.
A fundamentally new legal framework for developing the Russian healthcare system was created in 2011, a well-defined mechanism for the fair distribution of funding to healthcare institutions. Patients will be given an opportunity to choose a doctor and a medical facility. We must work on raising the degree of each individual’s responsibility for his or her own health. Otherwise no amount of money will ever be enough.
The key problem of Russian social policy is not about the amount of resources we use to address social challenges, but the effectiveness and the focus of the measures being implemented. We need to change the situation in the near future, eliminate all sources of loss in the social sector when resources are being wasted or sent to those who can manage without them instead of to people who need them desperately; when we support institutions out of habit without paying any attention to how their work benefits people; when we have the interests of those who work at social institutions above the interests of those for whom they work.
We must reverse this situation in this decade. Each rouble spend on the social sphere must ‘produce justice.’ A just society and economy are the prerequisites of our sustainable development during these years.
Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister of Russia, is a candidate for the 2012 presidential election. This article contains excerpts from the official translation of an article that originally appeared in Komsomolskaya Pravda. The complete translation of the article is available here.