Poverty has a child’s face
The results of research on families living in poverty in Moscow commissioned by the president’s ombudsman on children’s rights, Alex Golovan, were the subject of a presentation at the School of Advanced Economics of the State University. Mr Golovan said that the most vulnerable families were those containing children aged between one and a half and five years. In 2007 523,000 families containing 623,000 children had a per capita income below the minimum subsistence level.
A leading researcher at the School, Marina Baskakova, said that the research was carried out in October/November 2008 into 1,200 families living in a number of Moscow districts with the object of studying the conditions under which families with minors lived and the scale of poverty whilst evaluating the system of official welfare allowances or payments, and help in kind.
She said that families with one child ran the least risk of falling into the category of families in poverty whilst for those with two children or foster families the risk was doubled. It doubled yet again for single parent families and those with three or four children or a child with disabilities. Around half of families with five or more children were reckoned to be in poverty. The general rule both in the capital and throughout Russia was that the risk of slipping into poverty increased commensurately with the number of children. A higher proportion of poor families are characterised by informal partnerships, single mothers, divorced parents and widows, while the proportion of registered marriages is lower (58.7% compared to 70.9% in better-off families). Furthermore, the parents in poor families tend to be older than in the better-off ones, in poorer health and having a lower standard of education.
As Ms Baskakova observed, the system of welfare support for families with children embraces most of them and makes a significant contribution. In socially vulnerable ones the payments make up 20-30% of the family’s income. Help in kind is no less important.
The kinds of social help available in the capital may be divided into three categories. The first comprises priority aid for families at highest risk, ie those with over three children/children with disabilities. Payments to them should be increased, especially to those with over five children, taking into account the price of foodstuffs etc. Single parent families should also be included in this category. The second category is help for badly off families with children; targeting is currently poor. Most of the recipients of monthly child allowances (over 40% of families with children in the capital) make this point. The allowances amount to only nine percent of the minimum subsistence level for a child and are disproportionately allotted to families that are not poor. The last category comprises special help for families with small children. These families are at special risk as only the father is in work. Mothers receive maternity allowance until a child is one and a half with the rate changing after that until the child is three (although the amount is usually only token). The allowance received by a mother with children up to one and a half years old shrinks her proportionate contribution to the family’s income by at least three times compared to what she could earn by working – but in the case of single mothers, sevenfold. So it would be better to target help to these families.