By Kester Kenn Klomegah
MOSCOW (IDN) – “We need to address large-scale social, economic and technological tasks facing the country more quickly and, without delay. Our society is clearly calling for change. People want development,” President Vladimir Putin said in his wide-ranging address on January 15 to the Federal Assembly at the Manezh Central Exhibition Hall, a few metres away from the Kremlin.
Putin emphasised that this year Russia will celebrate the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War – World War 2. He said: “For Russia, May 9 is the greatest and sacred holiday. We are proud of the generation of victors and honour their feat, and our memory is not only a tribute to our heroic past, but it also serves our future, inspires us and strengthens our unity.”
Victory Day commemorates the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945. It was first inaugurated in the 15 republics of the Soviet Union, following the signing of the German Instrument of Surrender late in the evening on May 8,1945 (after midnight, thus on May 9 Moscow Time).
Referring to a major challenge confronting Russia, which was one of the highlights of his address, Putin told the Federal Assembly: “Russia’s future and historical perspective depend on how many of us there are …, how many children are born in Russian families in one, five or ten years, on these children’s upbringing, on what kind of people they become and what they will do for the country, as well as on the values they choose as their mainstay in life.”
The Assembly consists of all members from the Federation Council (Senate), State Duma (House of Representatives) deputies, members of the Government, leaders of the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court, and governors from all the regions in the Russian Federation.
Russia has a population of nearly 147 million now. But, according to Putin, the country has entered “a difficult, a very difficult demographic period”. The reason: The measures taken starting in the mid-2000s have had a positive effect on demography. A stage of natural increase has set in. As a result, there are more children at schools now.
However, new families are being created by only the small generation of the 1990s. And the birth rate is falling again. This is the main problem of the current demographic period in Russia, said Putin.
The aggregate birth rate, which is the key index showing the number of births per woman, was 1.5 in 2019, according to tentative estimates. It is approximately equal to the figure reported in many European countries. But it is not enough for Russia, said Putin.
The figure was 1.3 in 1943, during the Great Patriotic War (the period from June 22, 1941 to May 9, 1945 along the many fronts of the Eastern Front of World War II). It was only lower in the 1990s: 1.16 in 1999, lower even than during the Great Patriotic War. There were very few families with two children, and some couples had to put off starting a family.
Putin said he was “alarmed by the negative demographic forecasts. It is our historic duty to respond to this challenge. We must not only get out of this demographic trap but ensure a sustainable natural population growth by 2025. The aggregate birth rate must be 1.7 in 2024”.
Demography, he said, is a sector where universal or parochial solutions cannot be effective. Each step adopted must have a national priority – the preservation and increase of Russia’s population. Proposals to build a long-term policy to support families included nurseries be ready to enrol more children.
Subsequently, January 2020 onward, families with incomes below tsubsistence minimums per person will receive monthly benefits for their first and second child. He added: While providing comprehensive assistance to low-income people, society and the state have a right to expect them to take steps as well to deal with their problems, including finding employment and taking a responsible attitude to their children and other family members.
A special social programme for young families has been launched in the Far East: mortgage loans at 2 percent interest rate.
During the Soviet period (until 1919), there was large-scale social support for the people. Russia, starting from September 1, 2020, will provide free hot meals to all primary school students from grade one through four and these will be funded from three sources: the federal, regional and local budgets.
“I would like to emphasize – all the steps we are taking are aimed at creating a streamlined, large-scale and, most importantly, an effectively working family support programme, so that people’s incomes, especially for those raising children, are high enough for a decent life,” he stressed.
Last year, in his address before the Federal Assembly for instance, Putin acknowledged that Russia entered an extremely challenging period in terms of demography. Nevertheless, the country has to return to natural population growth by late 2023 – early 2024.
This, he suggested, could be pursued by preserving the family: childbirth, reproductive health and respect for the elderly. These have always served as a powerful moral framework for Russia. This task has to be shared by the state, civil society, religious organizations, political parties and the media.
Starting January 1, 2020, Putin proposed raising the bar to two subsistence wages per family member. This measure will increase the number of families entitled to additional benefits by almost 50 percent. Some 70 percent of families with one or two children will be able to benefit from help from the Government.
“The tax burden on families needs to be relieved. The approach should be very simple: the more children there are, the lower the tax. The income of Russian families must increase. An additional measure of support for families with a child who needs special care,” he told the Federal Assembly.
Considering the sustainability and stability of the macroeconomic situation in the country and the growth of the state’s revenues, it should be possible to support families having a third and subsequent children by way of to paying for mortgage with retrospective effect from January 1, 2019 onward, recalculating it and allocating relevant sums for the purpose from the budget.
Putin pointed to the need to ease construction companies of the tax burden. This will serve as an impetus for the comprehensive development of cities and townships, ensuring that families have all facilities near their homes: clinics, schools and sports facilities. Besides, it would enable parents to work, study, live happily and enjoy parenthood.
Putin pointed out that in 2000, there were more than 40 million people living below the poverty line. Now there are about 19 million, “but this is still too many”. The government must therefore focus on combating family poverty.
Russia has had a chequered history of the development of its population. It began to experience a rapid decline starting in the mid-1990s. The decline has slowed to near stagnation in recent years because of reduced death rates, and rising birth rates. Now Russia’s birth rate is higher than that of most European countries that began in 2014.
As far back in 2006, in a bid to compensate for the country’s demographic decline, the Russian government started simplifying immigration laws and launched a state program “for providing assistance to voluntary immigration of ethnic Russians from former Soviet republics”.
Earlier in August 2012, the country saw its first demographic growth since the 1990s, Russia’s population reached about 147 million, mainly as a result of immigrants from the former Soviet republics. It has fluctuated since then, and annexation of Crimea pushed it up the demographic figure to 148, according to the Ministry of Labour and Employment.
Russia, with the largest territory in the world, has a wide natural resource base, including major deposits of timber, petroleum, natural gas, coal, ores and other mineral resources that can, without doubt, be used to support the increasing population. [IDN-InDepthNews- 16 January 2020]
Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses to the Federal Assembly on 15 January 2020. Credit: Kremlin website.
IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.
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