There are numerous goals of social policy. It should support the weak, those who are unable to make a living. It should provide upward social mobility, an equal “starting point” for each person based on their capabilities and gifts. Above all, the effectiveness of social policy is determined by whether people think our society is fair or not.
In Russia we have a much higher level of social protection than in countries with similar levels of labour productivity and revenue per capita. And we have made real progress in fighting poverty, in improving the situation with pensions, in bettering healthcare, education.
However, our citizens are far from satisfied, and their dissatisfaction is justified. Today we should talk not about our achievements but about the problems we haven’t yet resolved and the challenges ahead.
Social mobility is too low. Income inequality is unacceptable, outrageous. One in eight Russian citizens still lives below the poverty line. The quality of social provisions is not high enough. And with an aging population we urgently need a more efficient welfare state. Our citizens must have an opportunity to fulfil their potential, to grow professionally and socially.
Oil and gas revenues trickle down into the economy unevenly. But we cannot get the government even further involved in redistribution. I strongly believe that in order to make our country a fairer one, where every person makes a living with his labour and talent, we need to diversify. As for those unable to make a living or those too young to work, the government will support them.
Our primary concern now should be the protection of families with children. It’s absolutely unacceptable when the birth of a child drives a family down to the poverty line. It will be our goal to eliminate such conditions on a nationwide basis within three to four years. I believe we should also introduce a special allowance following the birth of a third and consecutive child in those regions of Russia where the demographic trend is still negative. Of course, this programme will only be available to families with an income no higher than the region’s average.
Pension provision is perhaps the greatest achievement and the biggest challenge for our country. We need a completely new pension policy for the middle class. It should offer people the widest possible choice of options for responsible solutions to their life challenges, solutions that can be achieved with the assistance of the state, in cooperation with the state, but not by the state alone.
Affordable housing is an important prerequisite for increasing our citizens’ geographic mobility. Today we assist in providing housing for war veterans, military officers and young families. We will seek to promote and expand this, primarily to young families with children. But that is not enough. The middle class should be able to purchase new housing with mortgages. Mortgage rates will go down as inflation decreases, but we will also extend the subsidised mortgage rate scheme designed for young families and public sector workers. By 2030, I trust we should be able to solve the housing issue altogether.
In recent years we have undertaken administrative and economic reforms to our education and healthcare systems. Yet this has failed to bring about a noticeable improvement in the quality of education and healthcare.
I believe that any reform in healthcare or education should above all ensure decent wages for the professionals working in them. Doctors, teachers and professors must earn enough so as not to have to top-up their earnings by moonlighting. Unless we take care of that, all our efforts to improve administrative and economic mechanisms and to upgrade the equipment in those areas will have little or no effect.
Investments in education will become our key budget priority. Education is not just training the workforce for the needs of our economy but an important factor of social progress and the development of values that unite us. Our system of education and training should meet the challenges of modern times. Schools no longer give people a chance to move to a higher social group. Instead, they reproduce and perpetuate social differentiation. Children should not be held hostage to social or cultural status of their families. Support should not be limited only to high schools training mostly affluent children. Schools operating in difficult social conditions should receive it too.
We have to admit that in the past decade we did not pay enough attention to promoting culture. Programmes on Russian TV have become too commercialised, or, as some put it bluntly, simply vulgar. Of course, in a free market, people vote with their money. But the mission of culture and art is not limited to this. The government will pay special attention to museums, theatres, libraries and clubs in small towns.
As for healthcare, in 2011, we introduced a fundamentally new legal framework for developing healthcare. It will make the distribution of funding for medical institutions fairer and more transparent. Patients will have considerable rights with regards to choosing a clinic or a physician. No amount of money will be sufficient however unless we make sure that each individual feels greater responsibility for their own physical condition.
Unless Russia implements a long-term comprehensive agenda for demographic development to build up its human potential and develop its territories, it risks turning into a geopolitical “void”, whose fate will be decided by others. Our policies should be built to boost the development of Russia’s human capital.
I have outlined some of the challenges we face. We need to sort out all of the inefficiencies in our social policies that lead to the pointless squandering of resources, when the latter are denied to the most disenfranchised and instead provided to the better-off, when we keep on supporting certain institutions without evaluating their efficiency in working for the people, when we put the interests of public servants before the interests of the people they are supposed to serve.
We must change the situation within a decade. Every rouble allocated to the social services should generate ‘social justice’. A fair social and economic system is the main prerequisite to Russia’s sustainable development in the coming years.