Overcoming poverty: Russian NGOs offer their solutions
According to data released by the Ministry of Labour, in Russia’s regions poverty levels are closely linked to population density. In cities with a population of over 1 million, the number of people living in poverty is 3%, but where the population is under 200,000, the level of poverty rises to 32%. People with incomes below the minimum wage – currently 10,038 roubles – are categorised as ‘poor’.
Speaking at a conference on ’The State and Charities: Working together for a Common Goal’, the First Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection, Aleksey Vovchenko, commented: ‘In all, 13.4% of people in Russia need regular support. But this is a statistic which gives no details. We do not know who these people are or where they live. We can only be sure that families with children represent the bulk of the poor in this country.’
The most vulnerable groups include disadvantaged families with disabled children, large families, and elderly people living alone. In addition to state benefit, they need help from NGOs. Food parcels supplied by charities are particularly important.
‘Each year we distribute about 5 million kilograms of aid in groceries,’ the Deputy President for External and Internal Communications of the “Food Fund Rus’” Foundation, Anna Alieva-Khrustalyova says. ‘Our resources are limited, but demand is growing. There is no hunger in this country – but offering food aid means that people can spend the money they have saved on stationery for their children, school uniform and so on.’
However, administrative complications – and particularly tax legislation – affect the quantity of food the foundation can distribute, Anna Alieva-Khrustalyova argues.
‘In Russia, the tax system does not encourage the supply of goods on a charitable basis,’ one employee of the Rus’ Foundation believes. ‘If a manufacturing company has a particular range of products which could go to charities, then it is cheaper for the company to keep them in stock until the sell by date is past, and then recycle them, even if costs are involved. If a manufacturer supplies goods to charity on an official basis and completes all the documentation, then the company suffers financially. It gains nothing from making the donation, there are only expenses. It therefore makes more sense to destroy the commodities. We appeal to manufacturers and trading networks not to jettison goods and food products which can still be used. They can be passed on to those who need them. According to our calculations, the level of available help could increase by 25%-40% if the law was changed.’
According to the Managing Director of the Timchenko Foundation, Maria Morozova, there is not a state in the world that can cope with poverty on its own. The resources offered by the charity sector complement what is available in the sphere of state-supplied care, practical assistance and financial support. ‘State agencies, NGOs, families and neighbourhoods are coming together to offer “community care” – a concept new to the Russian language,’ Morozova says. ‘The phrase means care for those who need it supplied by the local community. Family and friends become more actively involved in the existing system of state support as partners, offering different kinds of resources. In one small village in the Archangelsk region, for example, local people have begun to take in elderly people who were living alone and finding it difficult to manage at home during the winter months. The part played by the local community is crucial. Poverty is closely bound up with loneliness and isolation. Staying locked up in your apartment is a sure way into poverty. The same goes if you are forced to leave the labour market to look after relatives. That is why it is essential to support people not just as individuals but as members of entire families.’