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Opening remarks at meeting on senior citizens’ social and economic situation

September 24, 2010

President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon, colleagues,

I have already managed to talk with some of you here today. We have a very important subject on our agenda today. I said a few days ago that I will be paying very close attention to this matter, as I think it absolutely deserves attention at the presidential level. I am referring to the issue of social services in the broad sense of the word for our senior citizens.

Very soon, I plan to take a number of decisions aimed at improving the quality of services for senior citizens, and of course I will visit a number of regions to see for myself what is happening.

Today, here in Kursk Region, we have taken part in various events and visited several facilities. Whatever the case, we should recognise that this matter has been receiving greater attention of late than it was, say, 10 or 15 years ago. This is one side of the coin, but the other side of the coin is that there are still a lot of problems to address. Above all, these are financial problems, and problems concerning people themselves, and we need to discuss all of these problems.

Many of today’s pensioners, almost all of them, have travelled a very difficult road through life. They fought in the war during the Soviet period, rebuilt the country after the war, and worked very hard. The 1990s were a very difficult time, hitting people severely and creating a negative environment. Of course, what is happening now is a sort of restoration of what was lost, and despite the crisis and the difficulties we face, we must continue this development. This is all the more so as senior citizens have a much harder time finding their place in the processes underway in society. We are to help them in this, work with them, help to socialise them, all the more so as senior citizens are particularly vulnerable to problems such as loneliness and illness.

Much of the correspondence I receive from people comes in fact from senior citizens. They write about their problems and we all know what these problems are. They include healthcare, medicines, difficulties in paying for housing costs, and low pensions, the traditional range of problems, in short, despite the fact that we have raised a number of benefits. But overall, the situation remains complicated.

Employment is another important issue for senior citizens, for those who want to work, because many of them are indeed ready and able to work. Not being able to find employment affects them in material terms, and it is also a blow to their morale.

I have been travelling around Kursk Region today. Practically everywhere we went people raised the employment issue. We had a lot of questions from senior citizens because they face the biggest problems of all. Young people also have their concerns, of course. But we can always tell young people directly to go and look for work, if work can be found. This response is justified in part, because we do have a huge vacancies market. Of course, everyone wants to work in a nice clean office, but we have to recognise that life does not always go exactly as we want, and often we need to roll up our sleeves and take what comes, work wherever there is work to be found. Pensioners are in a different situation, however.

We have around 40 million pensioners in our country. In other words, they form a large part of our society. These are people with a wealth of experience and knowledge. Of course the state authorities need to do everything possible to make use of their potential by creating incentives and conditions for their employment and drawing up employment programmes for pensioners who want to work. One in three pensioners is working at the moment in our country, but for the majority of pensioners their pensions are their sole form of income. We should look at how to develop our social infrastructure and the organisations providing services for these people.

Of course, we also must pay the closest attention to modernising our pension system. This is something the Government is working very hard and thoroughly on, and the main decisions in this area have already been taken.

We need to raise the quality of social and medical services. Providing senior citizens with medicines is also extremely important. We spoke about medicines today because this is one of the most important aspects for people to be able to lead a comfortable life and fight illness.

I hope to hear from you today on what your organisations (I’m addressing the heads of the organisations here) are doing to resolve these social service provision issues. I visited some facilities today and saw that they are alive and well in general, and people are happy with them on the whole.

But, first of all, the picture is not so bright everywhere, and we must be honest about this. There are some model institutions and there are also some rather poor ones. Second, we still need to work on improvement no matter what the social facilities, because it is always possible to improve our senior citizens’ quality of life and the quality of the services available.

Another matter is that we have become used to a situation when the state is the only provider of social services. This situation is the result of our country’s historic development, and not just during the Soviet period. But elsewhere around the world this is not the case. Of course the state is the principal partner in this area, the one of the most important providers of support for senior citizens. The state provides the main benefits and social services, and in many cases also provides medical services.

But we are to look at other possibilities too. We have to reflect on how to interest business and public organisations in this kind of work. I spoke about this the day before yesterday with Ms Golikova [Minister of Healthcare and Social Development Tatyana Golikova]. We talked about the fact that this is for the most part not a profitable sector, but the state authorities nonetheless have the task of creating the best possible environment for this work, removing administrative barriers, and generally getting business organisations involved in providing services for senior citizens. As I said, this is the way things happen elsewhere around the world, and it is perfectly normal for business and public organisations to play their part in this work. There are all kinds of volunteer groups and public organisations working in this system, helping to look after senior citizens around the world.

The right thing would be for our regional authorities to work together with businesses and NGOs to find ways of providing not just basic support, which will remain in any case the state’s primary responsibility, but to provide various forms of additional support for senior citizens, by helping to establish networks of social shops, for example, which for the most part are subsidised by the state, of course.

We just visited one such shop here in Kursk, which had a decent range of products subsidised by the state. It helps senior citizens to ensure they have balanced diet and is a help to our veterans, who do not have enough money to buy goods at more expensive shops.

We have to make sure that senior citizens who want retraining opportunities can get them. Today, we visited classes at the Senior Citizens’ University. We saw how senior citizens were learning there about gardening, and this is a good thing. First, new knowledge is always good at any age, and second, these are not just classes, but they also give people an opportunity to socialise, have contact with each other, and this is essential for a long life. They said themselves that this opportunity for contact is the most important thing for them. This is entirely fair, and there is nothing really to add there.

But we should work on modernisation too, which, as you know, is something I am paying close attention to. Senior citizens, just like young people, also require access to telephone connections, including mobile phones, digital television, and even the internet, because many of them want these possibilities and are interested in these things. These are also opportunities for contact, after all, especially for people who are bedridden, for example, or in wheelchairs, and have only limited mobility.

Transport services are also a very complex and important area for the state and for our private sector too. Transport support to ensure that senior citizens can get to the hospital, get to the pension fund office, is very important.

At the same time, mobile services for communication, information provision and resolving pensioners’ social problems are also being used effectively. Today I saw another example of the mobile service that goes out to people to help them arrange their pension payments, make all of the calculations, revisions and so on. This is a good thing and is really important. We need to develop not just telemedicine services but also distance provision services, distance consultations. The main thing is for these sorts of state services to be provided either by electronic means or by coming out to the people in question, because we have a big country, after all, and pensioners are not always able to get to their district centres to sort out their problems.

All of these tasks I have listed are complex, but this is no excuse for not tackling them. We cannot simply sit back and wait for our society and budget to grow wealthier and only then start tackling the urgent task of supporting our senior citizens. We must do this right away. True, we cannot achieve everything overnight, but let’s at least start moving forward one step at a time. This is already something. And people appreciate even these efforts and react very positively to even small changes for the better.


September 24, 2010