Priorities

Two years ago Russia launched four large-scale social and economic programs that had been declared national priorities: health care, education, housing and the agro-industrial complex. The 1990s were a very difficult time in Russia. The economic crisis, the collapse of industry and agriculture, the abuses of privatization, serious mistakes made in the course of economic and social reforms, huge foreign debts that had to be paid back - all these problems resulted in social decline verging on catastrophe.

People survived by engaging in trade and small business, as well as growing potatoes on their tiny plots of land. Many emigrated to more prosperous countries.

That was the legacy the present administration inherited in 2000. It was necessary to take the country out of the crisis and it took five years to create conditions to do so.

The President's annual Address to the Federal Assembly in 2002 for the first time set clear and simple goals: people must have a chance to work and to earn as much as they want so they would want to live in Russia and not to leave it.

It took three years to stabilize the economy sufficiently for the government to come to grips with these tasks.

Why, of all things, were healthcare, housing, education and improvement of rural life chosen as priorities? First, these are the spheres that go a long way to determining people's quality of life and the way society feels. There is yet another reason. The turmoil of the previous 15 years had critical consequences: people's health had deteriorated and the country had dropped below 100th place in terms of life expectancy. People moved from rural areas to cities to be able to feed their families. The countryside was becoming deserted. The population has been shrinking since 1992 in spite of the inflow of immigrants.

Healthcare

The main aim of the Health National Project is to modernize the healthcare system. The part of the health service that works directly with people - local GPs and family doctors whose consultations begin the treatment of any disease - was performing atrociously. Low salaries and overload resulted in a shortage of specialists. It was decided to staff local clinics with qualified doctors and nurses, and their salaries were raised dramatically. Within two years municipal clinics received as much modern medical equipment as in the preceding ten years.

Stimulating the birth-rate and care of mother and child was a separate and important area of effort. "Childbirth certificates" or vouchers were issued to expectant mothers, who showed them at pre-natal and maternity clinics. Clinics used these documents to claim extra funding from the government. Early results are already evident: in 2006, for the first time in post-Soviet Russia, the death rate dropped by 138,000 and in the first half of 2007 by a further 70,000.

Housing

Opinion surveys show that about 60 percent of Russian families need to improve their housing conditions. The situation is hardest for young people.

The project pursues three main goals: to provide targeted assistance to tens of thousands of young families to enable them to take out a mortgage; to ensure massive construction of new housing estates, and to overhaul decrepit old houses.

The project got off to a rocky start: in 2005-2006 housing prices shot up (more than doubling in two years) outstripping the growth of people's incomes. But there are signs that 2007 may mark a turning point.

Thanks to a set of measures designed to stimulate the construction industry, the amount of housing built has increased by a third, compared with 2006. The market promptly reacted by stabilizing prices and experts do not expect a sharp growth.

Education

For a country committed to innovation-driven development, a modern and high-quality education system is vital. The Education National Project is intended to meet that need. The government provides incentives to schools, colleges and universities, and entire regions that introduce new programs and projects, encourage the best teachers and pay bonuses to talented young people.

At the same time the project seeks to make education affordable, and to level out the quality of education in large cities and in the rural areas.

Development of the agro-industrial complex

Today, 38 million people, or a third of the population, lives in the countryside. Unfortunately, the quality of life there is significantly below city standards. Some sectors of agriculture have been doing well in recent years. For example, Russia has been a grain exporter for several years now. It sold 12 million tons of grain last year. However, the high-technology sectors, such as livestock breeding, are still struggling. Half of all food in Russian shops is imported. It was therefore decided to allocate billions of rubles to subsidize low-interest long-term credits for the building and retooling of livestock complexes.

The second important area is the development of production at private subsidiary plots and farms, which currently account for half of all agricultural output. Simultaneously, the development addresses a range of social issues, such as job creation and increasing rural incomes.

All the four priorities look to the future. The Ministry of Regional Development is currently working out a Long-Term Strategy of Housing Construction for the period up to 2025. The Ministry of Health and Social Development has embarked on a similar program. In the agricultural sector such a program already exists, and will span the period between 2008 and 2012.

No wonder Vladimir Putin has been speaking about the
continuity of economic and social policy after the new president is elected in March next year. -

People survived by engaging in trade and small business, as well as growing potatoes on their tiny plots of land. Many emigrated to more prosperous
countries

In 2002, for the first time, clear and simple goals were set: people must have a chance to work and to earn as much as they want so they could live in Russia

How national projects will improve life in Russia

EDUCATION

An extra $41 per month for form masters and grants of $4100 a year for advanced teachers; grants of $2500 a year for students; purchases of computer equipment for 2,500 schools and 100 higher educational establishments.

HEALTH

Wage increases of $410 per month for GPs, and $205 per month for nurses; increase in frequency of expensive surgery to 250,000 operations a year; purchase of 12,000 new ambulances.

HOUSING

Reducing the wear-and-tear of housing and public utilities from 60% to 51%; increasing housing construction by 37%; a 7.6-fold increase in the number of mortgage credits.

Financing in 2006-2007 (in billions of dollars)

Education – 1.7
Health – 6.0
Housing – 4.5

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