Poverty is by no means a new phenomenon to Russians. But the
reporting of it in the press certainly is. Ten years ago,
newspapers and magazines reported economic developments in a very
matter of fact manner, never deviating from the official line.
But by 1999 they had begun including critical articles looking at
the causes of falls in the standard of living for Russians.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Development tries to do its best
with what is called “resorting to small tricks”. It introduced a
bread-allowance of 1,400 roubles a month to the most unprotected
social categories -Êthe equivalent of seven loaves of
Foreign views and comparisons also appear in the newspaper accounts
of poverty. In an article in the local newspaper Saratovskie Vesti
the chief of the local department of employment service shares his
impressions of visiting the US. He reports that although “the
unemployment rate over there and in our oblast (region) are almost
the same, the unemployment benefit in the US is 10 times higher”.
Another publication, Argumenti i Facti, published the letter of a
young woman from Tatarstan, under the heading: “I want to be a
surrogate mother.” As a kindergarten teacher, the mother of a
six-month-old daughter and the wife of an unemployed husband, she
sees little hope and is ready to give birth to a child for
foreigners: “Certainly, because I need money. It is said that it
costs $50,000 in Canada.” She feels shame – a word she repeatedly
uses – but nonetheless she believes it is her only way to escape
Saratovskie Vesti has the most serious and analytical coverage of
issues surrounding poverty and is well thought of as a source of
advice for people with money problems. It clarifies, reassures, and
gives answers and comments from experts in social services on
topics such as: “Might the unemployed be granted early pension?”,
“How can one get housing benefit?”, “What kind of privileges do war
veterans have?”, “Will children allowances ever be paid?” The
newspaper’s journalists ask searching questions of ministries and
agencies, providing an opportunity for social institutions and
caring professions to create a positive image of themselves.
Recently a letter from “a caring social worker” was published in
Saratovskie Vesti. Drawing from their own social services
experience, the author concludes: “Eighty per cent of the
population need housing grants and live under subsistence level…
Why don’t officials care about 80 per cent of the population?”
Olga Boiko is a senior lecturer at the department of social
anthropology and social work in Saratov state technical university,
– Russia, the largest country in the world in terms of area, covers
over 17m sq km – about 70 times the size of the UK – and has a
population of 146m.
– Main ethnic groups: Russian 81.5 per cent; Tatar 3.8 per cent;
Ukrainian 3 per cent.
– Saratov is a city with a population of about 1m and is capital of
the Saratovskaya oblast (region).
– Social services in Saratov include more than 130 agencies. There
are 42 community centres of social services in the towns and
districts of the Saratov district (compared to just 20 in 1993).
The total number of social services employees in such centres is
about 6,200 – including almost 5,000 social workers and specialists
in social care.