Nearly a quarter of a century has passed since the Soviet Union dissolved and the subsequent Russian Federation emerged. With nearly 20 million people living in poverty, the transition to a capitalist nation has certainly not been an easy one for Russia’s citizens. Before assessing the subject of elderly poverty in Russia, it may be helpful to explore some of the causes and consequences of pervasive poverty throughout the population.
Wealth Inequality is Rampant
While nearly 14% of its population lives below the poverty line, and 20-30% considers itself poor, Russia’s fiscal policy ultimately favors the rich. One may observe this in the fact that 50% of Russia’s pre-tax national income goes to the top 10%. Relative to the size of its economy, Russia has the highest number of billionaires compared to any other large country — its wealth stratification being the worst out of all the countries included in the World Inequality Database.
Russia is Relatively Unproductive
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Russia ranks 39th out of the 42 reported countries. One can attribute this to several consequences resulting from its state capitalism, which include weak institutions and corruption. Foreign direct investment (FDI) has fallen especially within the past few years after the implementation of sanctions following the annexation of Crimea. Moreover, Russia’s labor force is set to shrink between now and 2050 as a result of constraint in growth from its aging population — that being, more young people are leaving Russia while the elderly will require more comprehensive improvements in health care and long-term care.
After the economic collapses of 1991 and 1998, many Russians lost their life’s savings. The transition to a capitalist economic system has had a substantial negative effect on the older generation (age 50 and up), which represents nearly 35% of the population.
While much of the data reported on elderly poverty in Russia contradicts, reports have determined that upwards of 70% of aging couples are poor. Because of this, a justified concern exists around Russia’s consistently aging population, as it faces an even higher risk of poverty – invoking a necessity to investigate and address the country’s aging issue and economic instability.
Limited Public Assistance
According to the Global AgeWatch Index, Russia ranks 65th out of 96 countries when considering the population’s well-being, life expectancy and mental health. Furthermore, the pensions have neither kept up with inflation nor the country’s average earnings, as the average pensioner in Russia receives the equivalent of €180 per month – barely enough to live on.
Unfortunately, Russia has limited resources for the elderly who are either disabled or suffering from dementia and other ailments. Social services and state aid are often expensive and inaccessible to the older generation – wrapped up in a multitude of bureaucratic requirements. Those who do not have a family to receive care from often end up homeless or in nursing homes with “warehouse” conditions.
Fortunately, organizations exist that are continuously working to improve the consequential conditions of elderly poverty in Russia. One such organization is Enjoyable Aging. The depressing conditions of poverty and loneliness in nursing homes in Russia struck Lisa Oleskina, who started the organization in 2006.
Today, Enjoyable Aging employs nurses who adopt a standard of individual care for elderly patients living in nursing homes. Loneliness is a serious concern for Russia’s elderly, and poverty can certainly exacerbate this issue. Enjoyable Aging combats loneliness through organizing events and regular correspondence with facility residents in more than 120 nursing homes in Russia.
Further Signs of Improvement
As with the rest of the world, Russia has faced an economic downturn amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, with the nation’s unemployment rate increasing to its highest in eight years (6.3%). A recent spike in cases could potentially push the country into further economic turbulence that will have a substantial impact on the older generation. However, prior to the pandemic, Russia was on track to see long-term economic growth.
Although progress had been slow, the World Bank reported as recently as September 2020 on Russia’s promising improvements in its human capital development – most notably, the country’s reductions in adult and child mortality rates. Nevertheless, as the population’s average age continues to rise, a necessity to significantly improve funding for the country’s public health care remains. Prioritizing long-term physical and mental needs is essential to lift up the most vulnerable within a developing economy.
– Alessandra Parker