23 september 2011

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin takes part in the United Russia conference session “Social Policy: New Standards”

Vladimir Putin

At the United Russia conference session “Social Policy: New Standards”

“The purpose of the state and the economy is to address social issues. It is clear that not a single problem can be resolved without the economy, be it defence capability, security or social issues. <…> But we work for the benefit of the people. At least it should be so.”

Transcript of the meeting:

Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues!

I apologise for interrupting you. I see that I have interrupted the speakers. I have just spoken at the previous session and I would like to congratulate you too on the beginning of the United Russia conference. I hope this meeting will be informative and beneficial for the party itself – for United Russia – and for the entire country.

I apologise for interrupting you. I suggest that the speaker continues. I’ll get caught up on what you’ve been discussing.

Leonid Roshal: It was me.

Vladimir Putin: Of course, you are always being interrupted. (laughter)

Leonid Roshal: Who would think of equipping every village health centre with a CT scanner? Why, of course not. Our programme is based on common sense.

We are referring to interregional medical centres. Do we need them? We do. We should use our past experience and the Soviet experience in this area. I think that we should specify the concept of interregional hospitals more clearly in the law that the National Medical Chamber is actively working on. Because this is what it says.

The healthcare programme proposed by the Popular Front is rather serious. We keep sending it to Fyodorov and back, to Fyodorov and back. But we are approaching the stage when it is becoming a clear concept.

I think that it is important and natural to ensure that in five years the attitude towards healthcare will change radically. Mr Putin mentioned that 30% of citizens are content with healthcare services. We need to make sure this figure reaches 60%. I know it is hard, but it is possible. I am absolutely certain.

I have no doubts that both the Popular Front and the National Medical Chamber can facilitate this.

Thank you.

Yelena Nikolayeva: Thank you very much.

Mr Putin, I would like to tell you that the session has been running for nearly 2.5 hours and, you know, on the one hand, there is unanimity among us but, on the other hand, the variety of the problems that we are discussing is as massive as life itself because social affairs concern every person in Russia. Our task is to ensure that the social sphere is, first, focused on the needs of the people and, second, responsible. It must not make Russian citizens dependent on social benefits. So, how can we make the system well balanced?

Today, we have discussed how the general idea of social justice can be tied to the economic reality. This task is not easy and we understand this. The discussion today was very professional, to the point and specific, without any populist opinions. We have prepared particular proposals that emerged during the sessions of the Popular Front, the primaries and expert reviews. Now we are summing up these proposals as part of a resolution of this round table meeting, so they are included in the conference resolution.

I will describe briefly the matters that we have discussed today.

The first point is, of course, a decent level of wages. The situation when employed people live in poverty is inadmissible. This problem still persists. I am talking about not only increasing the minimum wage, but taking a whole set of measures for the economy development. But we should start with public sector workers who earn very low wages. Their salaries are often twice as low as the average wage. This problem must be given a priority status.

Naturally, we have discussed other serious issues, such as unemployment and creating new jobs, improving social mobility and efficient career support.

We have pointed out to Ms Golikova (Minister of Healthcare and Social Development) that the social programmes worked successfully during the crisis. Perhaps, these programmes should continue or be used to review experiences at the regional level, and also to support mothers, the disabled and other categories of people as opposed to just those who lost their jobs. If someone can work, give them a helping hand. They can earn their income themselves. There is no point in spending the money and trying to solve every existing problem with modest means.

There is a serious issue concerning elderly people. It is our pain, and we must address it. On the one hand, we understand that a lot has been done to increase pensions even during the crisis and we all stressed this at the meeting. But we also think that it is essential that pensions, wages and social benefits grow at an equal pace. But, again, it is important to involve the non-profit sector into the programmes for the senior generation, which would prevent them from feeling lonely and abandoned. We have touched upon this topic today and we believe it is crucial.

There is also a series of challenging problems related to the socialisation of the people who I call “people with unlimited abilities.”

We have heard a winner of the Paralympic Games speaking today. You know that these people know how to take responsibility and they have very difficult living conditions.

We know that a fantastic sum has been allocated to the Accessible Environment programme, but we believe that the accessible environment is not only about wheelchair ramps, it is also about socialisation. These are issues that should be addressed not only by the Ministry of Healthcare, which pays a lot of attention to them, but also by all ministries and agencies. All programmes should take into account that people with disabilities need special attention. It is true about devices, means of rehabilitation, medications, and so on and so forth. But the most important thing is to give them an opportunity to find a decent job.

We have raised a serious question today about the demographic crisis and about programmes that will allow us to look to the future with hope for positive trends in demographic processes. While we see that the government’s efforts to support families that have two or more children are already yielding the first results, we should not stop at this, because the demographic abyss will soon be unprecedented.

We believe that the newly formulated government family policy is a very important task for the Popular Front. There is a very serious proposal on uniting all allowances and benefits into one child care allowance, and, of course, we should seriously discuss that it needs to be increased drastically, because the meagre child allowances that we have now are definitely not enough.

We have also seriously discussed the problems of kindergartens and have decided that the problem should be resolved within the next three years. The United Russia party has a special programme for that. Yekaterina Semyonova made a very good report on the subject, but we still have problems in this area.

Of course, it is also necessary to resolve the issues with sanitary rules and standards, with new forms, and with fire safety rules. We have found out that in order to have alternative options for pre-school education, we need to find unique conditions: balconies of a certain size, ceilings of a certain height; for some reason, it cannot be situated higher than the ground floor…

These things, in our opinion, will take a significant burden off young mothers who will be able to find a job. This will significantly help to improve family stability.

We have also talked a lot about reforming the education system, and here we also have serious proposals both on new educational standards and on ways to keep young teachers at work. We know that you have already suggested an initiative and we would like to hear about it once again. Do we have it right that certain proposals will be implemented soon for young teachers, especially those who work in rural areas?

Because our colleagues say that keeping young teachers at rural schools is now the basic problem. Of course, housing is a very acute problem, and providing service housing, not necessarily transferring it into ownership, may be a very efficient solution to the problem, we believe.

There is also a proposal to relieve from army service those young people who go to work as teachers at schools. Perhaps, it will allow us to qualitatively change the teaching community and to make work with teenagers more active and diversified. We heard such a proposal today and we believe it is very important.

We should seriously consider the fact that significant funds have already been invested in repairs of school buildings and providing schools with equipment. But it is also very important to bring back the high quality of education, and we have spoken about it a lot today. We have talked about the Unified State Examination, about the need to develop vocational training and a system to train qualified workers. At the moment, this system is, unfortunately, poorly suited for the needs of the economy.

We have talked about the education system being ready to move towards the business community. A decision on reconciling educational and professional standards is a big challenge, and it cannot be done by the education system alone. It must be done together with the economy.

As a representative of Delovaya Rossiya, I want to say that we are ready to work out these standards in a number of sectors in order to really make our professional education prestigious and worthy. The Yaroslavl Region has shown how this can work citing the example of its pharmaceutical cluster.

We have also discussed very seriously today the quality and availability of medical assistance. You know, the participants of the round table were very impressed by the unprecedented sum of 460 billion roubles that will be allocated to resolve the problems of healthcare and to raise its quality.

Today we have discussed ways to ensure that this money is used with maximum efficiency and maximum returns. We have already talked about computer tomographs, but we have an opportunity to approach the issue wisely. I have to say that Ms Golikova told us in detail what changes are happening in this area. The participants of the round table supported them and we will definitely include them in the resolution.

A very important issue is the supply of medications. Establishing a domestic base for manufacturing medications is a guarantee of our security, including in healthcare. But we believe that it is also crucial in all other senses, including for our economic development. And we need to improve the availability of medications so that all our citizens have as many Russian-made medications available as possible. This task is one of the most pressing now.

We understand what legislative changes are necessary for this, including the definition of a medication (something Sergei Vakhrukov spoke about), and how these clusters can be supported. We believe that we are on the right track. This goal should be achieved in the medium term and should be included in our programme.

We have also raised the housing issue. This question was touched upon by almost every speaker. I believe that this is a comprehensive goal that should be resolved systemically, but at the same time, we should not only try to provide everyone with their own housing, since this is unfeasible and we will never have enough money for that.

So we need to develop alternative programmes. Notably, the construction of social housing, social rent, programmes related to rental housing that can be provided to people under one or another programme or subsidised if a category of citizens is entitled to it. Of course, it is necessary to develop mortgage programmes, something you have repeatedly said, and we strongly support these programmes, naturally, together with the construction of low-rise housing and cottages. We believe that the better our life, the better our environment, the better our demographic situation will be. As our colleagues have said, when you have a home, you feel like having children.

I have summed up the work of our section today. Let me repeat that it was as diverse as our lives are. I apologise if I have omitted something. I honestly have recorded all the proposals and I will elaborate on my speech before the plenary meeting.

Vladimir Putin: You know, the work of this section… All sections are important, but, frankly speaking, all the activities of the government and the economy are geared towards addressing social issues. It is clear that not a single problem can be resolved without the economy, be it defence capability, security or social issues, education or healthcare. But everything is done for the benefit of the people. We work for the benefit of the people. At least it should be so. But, of course, there are a number of problems.

You started with adequate wages and said that we could not be guided by some populist ideas. Of course, the prosperity of any person and of any Russian family is based on their income, on their wages and income from different kinds of activities. I will not name the decisions that have been made recently. There have been a lot. But we should not put the cart before the horse.

Of course, sometimes – and perhaps very frequently – we are forced to do the following: we raise wages at a higher pace, even though they are currently very modest in absolute terms; but we raise them at a higher pace compared to the growth pace of labour productivity.

In the normal economy (and I’d like to emphasise normal), the growth of wages should not outpace the growth of labour productivity, otherwise there will be no money to pay wages. This is what we are witnessing in certain countries at the moment. You can take to the streets forever, protest and fight with the police.

But what if the treasury is empty? It’s impossible to constantly go around with hat in hand.

Some small European states can rely upon financial support from Germany or France. But no one will support us. We will have to pay our own way, or boot the bill with our sovereignty and nobody wants this in our country. A Russian cannot stand this. We have a different mentality.  

That is why we must maintain balance in the economic and social sphere in a competent and prudent manner. But again, the most important goal is our citizens’ wellbeing. Everything is directed towards this goal, so the primary task is to increase wages.  

We have been reviewing this issue in our intense discussion with trade unions. Today there are various attitudes to trade unions: they are criticised by some on the left and some on the right. But in real earnest I can tell you that the government and the business community sometimes have difficulty reaching a compromise with trade unions in our three-party talks.

The role of trade unions is to assert their demands as strongly as possible. The role of the business community is to defend their interests to the utmost. The government’s function is to find the balance. We have managed to do this until now, but we will continue to move towards increasing wages.  

I believe that the country’s wages will average 32,000 roubles per month in the coming two or three years. Let me remind you that the average level is about to reach 24,000 roubles by the end of the current year.

Wages came down to almost 19,000 roubles in the period of crisis, but we have restored them and have been increasing them gradually. At present, it is about 23,000 roubles and will come up to 24,000 roubles by the end of the year.

Certainly, we are worried about the situation in the main international economic centres: the United States and Europe. They are badly unsettled and this affects us too, but we should not gloat. Their problems have their negative effect on us, I repeat. Let’s hope that the entire international community, working together, will work out an appropriate solution to the current problems. And we will continue to develop as steadily as we have done in the last year and a half.

In fact, we have restored the wage level. I would like to stress that despite the crisis, when wages went down to 19,000 and 18,000 roubles, in some regions (the country’s salary averaged 18,000 and 19,000 roubles, as of 2009), the country’s average wage level slightly increased in real terms. This happened largely thanks to a planned increase in the wage level of the public sector employees and to pension valorisation.

We have also combated unemployment very actively. In the period of crisis, the unemployment grew up to 7.4 million people, which is a record-breaking figure in the last decade. Today, we have restored the pre-crisis unemployment rate: it is 4.7-4.6 million. We have cut it almost by half, which is a considerable achievement.

I would like to note that unemployment is the main economic headache for the world’s leading economies, including the US. It is a serious social-economic factor. It weights heavily on the entire economy. They have not been able to resolve this problem yet. This is the real challenge along with a significant debt. Still, the current problem is unemployment. We have managed to cope with it.

We have developed an entire system to overcome unemployment. I am very happy to say that it has worked. I appreciate the work of regional authorities. We have coped with unemployment in every region. They were largely involved in the process. They are often criticised, as well as we are, and this is often fair, but their efforts in this sphere were very efficient.

To be sure, it is not good when a skilled worker is cleaning a shop floor for low pay. Still, we have ensured a minimal income for people to support their families. And we have also worked in many other directions. At present, we have restored the labour market. We will continue to work on this issue, as 4.7 million is still a no small amount. We should think about how to reduce the number of the unemployed. First and foremost, we began to change the quality of jobs. This is the most important point. We should change the quality of jobs rather than merely reduce the unemployment rate to zero. We need different jobs, more skilled and high-paid jobs with better working conditions. We managed to partly do this even during the crisis, though this is not noticeable yet. Still, the structures are being changed.

I was surprised by it, too. In due time, I agreed to allocate funds to help people start their own business as a measure to combat unemployment. But, to be honest, I did not expect that this measure will work.

There are about 600,000 people who started their businesses, am I right?

Yelena Nikolayeva: Even more.

Vladimir Putin: It’s over a million. Just imagine! I could not believe it.

We have always been speaking of barriers, corruption, and the impossibility of starting a business during the crisis. Almost a million people set up a business of their own thanks to the little money allocated as start-up capital from the budget. This is great.

To be sure, we must facilitate the mobility of population. What do we have to do to accomplish this? We must resolve housing issues. We must enable people to rent temporary social housing when they move to a new region and help them settle there. This requires a series of measures, which we will develop. This year, we will continue to allocate money for this goal. As for next year, we will see then. Still, we will allocate funds in the next year too. We will just see whether the problem is that acute and pressing and whether it requires more or less money. But the programme should be continued.

Another focus of our work is support for senior citizens, as we bear great responsibility for their lives and living standards. It was difficult to conduct valorisation of pensions – reassessing pensioners’ rights obtained in the Soviet time – in the most difficult period of the crisis. We agreed upon it earlier, we promised this valorisation. And we were tempted to give up this decision during the crisis and tell the people honestly that the government was unable to do this at the time. Nevertheless, we reviewed our capabilities and cut other programmes. Unfortunately, we had to cut some development programmes. Still, we increased pensions by 45% and I think that was the right decision.

I would like to emphasise that higher pensions increase the buying capacity of this part of population. Elderly people do not spend money on expensive imported goods but buy domestic products.

We have not stopped at that: we have adjusted pensions for inflation by 19.1% this year. Certainly, we should not merely increase pensions; we should increase senior citizens’ wellbeing so that expenses for housing and utilities, healthcare and medicines wouldn’t eat up all these additions. To do this, we should renounce all sort of populism.

If we want to be honest and responsible towards Russian citizens, we should resolve the issues that might seem unclear to someone, for example, issues related to combating inflation. If the inflation rate is high, the prices, including housing and utilities, will grow and so on. But it cuts both ways, as government expenditures may spur inflation. That is why we should act very carefully. If we do this thoughtlessly, inflation will get out of control and all our pay increases will turn out to be momentary. I am saying this because many of you, I hope, are going to be working in parliament, and the work of a deputy is special in that one always wants to go in front of cameras and immediately promise everything. But what happens next? So, let me repeat, I am deliberately emphasising this issue now because I hope that many of you will be represented in the State Duma -- but please remember this when you make decisions.

Of course, I believe we have allocated 46 billion roubles towards the Accessible Environment programme. There is a lot that needs to be done. The Soviet Union never did anything for the disabled. Almost nothing, everything was just hushed up and ignored.

Everyone is familiar with the maxim that you can tell how civilised a society is by the way it treats its elderly and the disabled. Of course, Ms Nikolayeva is correct that the decisions on an accessible environment are not enough, and that a lot more needs to be done in this respect. This is only the beginning. But, of course, the entire problem cannot be resolved by simply addressing this one issue.

We need to start with society and with schools. The first thing that needs to be done is to give children with disabilities an opportunity to study alongside their peers, in order to let people to be familiar with living in this environment from a very young age, so that they learn to understand each other's problems, to sympathise, help and support them. It will make those who do so richer and kinder, and everything else will follow.

Of course, the demographic problem is one of the most important. If we don’t resolve it, there will be no country. If the population is dropping -- if there are fewer and fewer of us -- then what is there to talk about?

You are well aware that this is not only our problem. This is a problem of all so-called postindustrial countries. What is going on in Europe? They spend as much as us on different programmes, perhaps even more, but it is not very efficient. It doesn’t help.

However, the programme that we drafted and launched has generated results -- both the maternity capital and the entire set of social measures for maternity and childcare. They range from monetary allowances to maternal certificates, vitamins at hospitals, and so on. All this has a certain positive effect. We should step up these efforts, I agree with you on this.

We should consider separate problems on an individual basis. I don’t know if it is necessary to unite all allowances into one. We should consider this. You see, there is a risk of going over to a hospital’s average again. We should look at the categories of the population.

When we were deciding which child to encourage the birth of, whether the second or third, we decided on the second. Why? I'll tell you frankly that there are regions and countries where three and even five children are already the norm. Of course, we would like to support everyone. We should simply look carefully to determine what problems there are, and concentrate on these categories. Let me repeat that the proposed tools are working. And we will continue using them.

As for education, Teacher’s Housing is a programme – as I have said – that will enable people to receive land plots for free, and will allow regions to build a support system -- to develop a system of lower mortgage rates that does not link the availability of a mortgage loan to a teacher’s average salary. We will reach an agreement with the regions about having them cover the down payment of mortgages of a total of 10% or 15%.

All this can be done. This of course requires attention from the parliament and from municipal authorities, and above all, I would say, not governors themselves, but at the deputy level. So United Russia should pay very close attention to this in the regions, since we have a majority in most of them.

This is just a matter of setting priorities. Of course, money is never enough -- not only because we don’t have enough of it, but because there are people who believe that one issue is more important than another, that building something, for example, is more important than providing money to support a specific person.

When we discuss an issue such as raising schoolteachers’ wages, we reach an agreement with governors that we will help them, and we allocate additional funds, 60 billion roubles for an academic year, and they raise teachers’ wages to the region’s average, region economy’s  average. This means a truly big leap for some regions, one which they cannot manage. They simply don’t have the money. And then we start talking with each other: “When will you raise them to the average for the region?” “We have raised them by 30%.” I say, “Good. But when will they reach the region’s average?” “Well, in a year.” I say, “This is too long.” “Well, then by the middle of next year.”

You see, this is a matter of priorities. This means they will re-direct the money from somewhere else. It does not mean that they will get it from nowhere. Yes, they will redirect it, but I think this is very important.

Healthcare, especially in rural areas, and education. I'm saying that these priorities will have to be selected first of all by regional legislatures, because they are decided when determining the budget. And I ask all of you present here, as well as those who will hear this through the media to pay very close attention to this.

As for healthcare, we have not only allocated an additional 460 billion within the next two years to improve the situation in the regions, we also have not given up the Healthcare national project. This programme provides another 490 billion over three years. This 460 billion is for two years, and another 490 billion is for three. Overall, we will allocate over a trillion roubles towards healthcare over the next few years.

As for medications -- this is, of course, a very important area. In the Soviet era, we received a significant part of our medications from the countries of the Warsaw Pact, or the Socialist camp. A lot fell apart there, and unfortunately, we have also lost a lot. We practically need to start over from scratch. We are at a huge disadvantage here, because we do not have a lot of what we need, even among our top priorities. But there are some advantages, too. We need to start from scratch. And when you start from scratch, you can do so with the highest standards, like we are doing with the Olympic Games in Sochi. If you do something from scratch, you can do it at the highest level.

We have these chances. We have two programmes for this purpose -- a programme to develop the Russian medical industry and the pharmaceutical industry. They will receive hundreds of billions of roubles in the near future. We will proceed from the areas in which we are advanced, and these areas exist, we do have something to be proud of in this sphere, and we will use our own products. We will also set up joint ventures, and many will be glad to come to our market.

Since this is a sensitive area, we should be sure to look after the domestic industry together with the medical community, because there are unfortunately many lobbyists, including in the medical community, that simply promote foreign medications at any price. I regret to say this, but unfortunately, this is the reality. They say there are analogs, but that they are bad, that it's better to buy a medication by this firm, and that's what I'll prescribe you.

It is difficult to deal with this all at once, in a single blow, but we need information to be available. And it is also necessary to work on this on both the regional and the federal levels.

You have also discussed housing, but I won't talk about that now… You know, the most important task in this area is not simply to increase the amount of housing – even though we will soon increase housing construction to 100 million square metres, as we have repeatedly said at different forums. But we also need to increase construction of adequate middle-class housing, low-rise housing, and, of course, an important social task we should not forget about is to move people out of old and dilapidated housing -- we need to move  people out of slums.

Yelena Nikolayeva: You have indeed summed up the meeting of our section, because we are all of the same mind here. What we like most of all is that all the speakers are very responsible people, and none of them are populists. They all propose specific things, but we should understand that the issues we are addressing here are not meant to be a burden for the budget, but rather, an investment in human capital -- and I believe that this is their main goal.

And after thinking over all of these priorities and realising what is the most efficient way to utilise the huge amount of money that has been allocated, then, I believe, we will achieve the main goal, which is provided in our Constitution -- and that is the goal of Russia being a social state. And I never tire of talking about this.

Vladimir Putin: You know, if you look at the budget structure, this really is the case. But I have left out one thing that you mentioned, and this is the notion of exempting certain categories of people who work in crucial social areas from the military service.

I would advise you to talk to those of your colleagues who are concerned about the situation with the Armed Forces and their staffing issues. I won’t say anything, just talk to them.

Yelena Nikolayeva: We will discuss it further.

Vladimir Putin: You haven’t discussed it yet?

Yelena Nikolayeva: No.

Vladimir Putin: You should allow Mr Klintsevich to talk about it, he knows what is going on there.

It is a result of our demographic problems that the Armed Forces are encountering a staffing problem. And also because we have reduced the service period to 12 months. This is a very serious problem.

But if we exempt another group of people from military service, then there will be only one way to staff the army, and that is with contract soldiers. And now take up pens and paper and calculate how much this would cost and how much money would have to be re-directed from the problems in healthcare and education.

Natalia Makretskaya: Mr Putin, but who will work with teenagers if there are no young people at school?

Vladimir Putin: There will be young people if we offer a proper salary and give them an opportunity to buy an apartment or a house. I am certain that young men will appear immediately. If the wage is decent, Ms Makretskaya, people will come. This is the main problem, after all.

Natalia Makretskaya: But we have been through this already. The problem is that they then show up somewhere as managers and so forth, but here they have already gone through practical training at school, if they have an agreement. You see, there is a grain that needs to…

Vladimir Putin: There is, Ms Makretskaya. I didn’t say I was opposed to it. I only suggest that you discuss it with those of your colleagues who are concerned with the staffing of the Armed Forces, and not with me.

What would we do if we don’t’ have an army?

Natalia Makretskaya: But what kind of teenagers go into the army?

Vladimir Putin: Different kinds of teenagers. Actually, teenagers aren't required to go. It’s young men who have to go.

Natalia Makretskaya: But young men at age 18 are unprepared.

Vladimir Putin: We should prepare them.

Natalia Makretskaya: They are unprepared. And it works out that women prepare them.

Vladimir Putin: You know, there are a lot of problems related to preparation for military service.

Yelena Nikolayeva: Of course there are.

Vladimir Putin: For example, we have lost the institution of volunteer associations for assistance to the army. It has degraded into quasi-organisations of some kind. I don’t know how the military arts is taught now. I believe it isn’t. So the problem is not only a matter of a lack of male teachers. There are also problems of health, of drug and alcohol addiction and smoking. It is a complicated problem. It's not like we can just say that we won't draft young teachers into the army, and everything would be fine tomorrow. It doesn't work that way.

Natalia Makretskaya: Because the most important thing is housing.

Vladimir Putin: Housing and wages.

Yelena Nikolayeva: And an adequate wage.

Natalia Makretskaya: We can find ways to raise wages, but housing…

Vladimir Putin: Why? It is feasible. I have already offered the Teacher’s Housing programme, lower mortgage rates.

Natalia Makretskaya: How can young people afford a mortgage?

Vladimir Putin: Ms Makretskaya is right. A mortgage is a difficult burden.

Natalia Makretskaya: If someone is young, how can he afford a mortgage on housing?

Vladimir Putin: This is clear, Ms Makretskaya, and you are right, but we cannot do it any other way. If we want it to reach a large scale, we need to raise salaries to a level that will allow people to pay out of their own wages; their down payments will be covered, and monthly payments will be reduced. All this needs to be calculated. I'm not saying they can show up today and have it all. I'm only proposing a direction for us to move in.

We all need to sit down, make the calculations and say: the wages will be this much, the down payment will be this much, and monthly payments will be that much; can they afford this or not? If not, we will either have to reduce the payments to the very minimum or raise wages further. How many people today have an opportunity to take out a mortgage loan? 18 million, I think.

Alexander Zhukov: 17 percent.

Vladimir Putin: 17 percent. This is clear. We talk about mortgages, but that doesn’t mean that we believe everyone can take them out. 17 percent. This is the figure that we have, and we understand that. It's just that if we take another approach to the problem and simply provide more money from the budget all the time, then we will not pay wages and we will let healthcare slip.

Or let's say we take the 460 billion allocated for healthcare and 490 billion from the Healthcare national project, add something else and give it out as wages; then we will kill everything else.

It is always a matter of balance and of finding the best solution to a problem. There are no simple solutions. But they should be feasible. Ms Makretskaya is right about this. If we just say, go and take out a mortgage loan, only 17 percent will be able to do so. What do we need to do then? We should offer land for free and reduce the down payment, or perhaps abolish it altogether.

What I suggested is that regions should take the down payment upon themselves. Some regions, when the first baby is born, repay 30%-50% of the loan, and when the second is born, the entire loan is written off. This is what I'm talking about. We can invent and introduce many mechanisms like this, we just need to think about it.

What am I urging you to do? There are no simple solutions. If a solution is simple – zap and it’s done -- we will create a hole somewhere else. I'm not opposed to this. Let's not draft them, then. Fine. But tomorrow those who deal with defence will come and ask: who will do military service? Let me assure you -- you think that this is only one category, young teachers. But there are also young doctors in rural areas, musicians, graduates of ballet schools, librarians. They will say, why, we don’t have enough… And that’s all.

Yelena Nikolayeva: Mr Putin, I believe that a politician needs to be responsible, but so does a citizen. We have not raised this issue today, but we have prepared these books…

Vladimir Putin: I am sorry to interrupt you, but I am very glad that we are having this discussion. You know, I want to call on all of you, each in your own sphere… The same thing is happening within the government. Do you think it is different with us? It is absolutely the same. Every person dealing with some area or another needs to rigorously defend his or her point of view, the sector and problems that he or she understands better than anyone else.

But the qualities of people who are involved in political activities or the economy on the regional or national level are determined not by their ability to shout, but by their ability to listen to a colleague, to take in the entire problem and to reach a compromise, to say, “Perhaps, you're right here.” When we respect a person, we admit that he or she is better at something than we are, so we may hear them and say, “Yes, you are right about this, so let's do it this way.”

I very much hope that you will have this kind of atmosphere in your future work.

Yelena Nikolayeva: Thank you very much.

I would just like to say that Russian citizens also need to know their rights, and so social and legal education is very important, since not many people use even those benefits that are already offered by the government.

Thank you very much, Mr Putin. We are ready for serious work.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much.