Vladimir Putin has backtracked on pension reforms in Russia that included hikes to the retirement age for men and women and caused an outcry across the country, even hitting his personal approval ratings.
The Russian president toned down the controversial proposals in a special address to the nation on Wednesday. He said women would be able to retire and claim their pensions at 60 instead of 63, as originally proposed – still a leap from the current age of 55.
He also outlined several other concessions on the reform, although the changes to the retirement age for men, which will go from 60 to 65 in the new proposals, were unaltered.
In a rare u-turn, Mr Putin told the nation: “For many years I was cautious and even suspicious about any proposals to change the pension system. Sometimes I reacted harshly to them.
“But the trends that we’re seeing in demographics and labor market, objective analysis of the situation show that we can’t put it off any longer. However, our decisions must be fair, balanced and take interests of the people into account.”
The reform was first announced by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in mid-June, on the first day of the World Cup. The move elicited criticism that the Kremlin was trying to bury bad news. In July, protests erupted all over the country over the reforms, with both opposition politicians and ordinary people voicing their discontent with the change.
Critics argued that hundreds of thousands of people will not live long enough to see their pensions, or much of them. Average life expectancies in Russia are relatively low – 66.5 years for men and 76.9 years for women, according to the World Bank.
Despite the cabinet being at the forefront of the reform and the Kremlin distancing itself from it, Russia’s independent pollster Levada Center reported Mr Putin’s approvals dropping to 67 percent in July in response to the plan – the lowest since January 2014, although it quickly skyrocketed at that point to 88 percent following the annexation of Crimea.
The president first commented on the reforms only in late July, saying he “didn’t like" either of the options discussed by the Russian parliament.
In his address, Putin announced keeping many of the social benefits pensioners are entitled to in place. He also said mothers of three or more children would be allowed to retire earlier – at between 50 and 57 years of age – depending on the number of children they had, and proposed prosecuting employers for firing people within the five years before their retirement age.
He also suggested doubling the amount of unemployment benefits for people of “pre-pension” age.
According to Russia’s finance minister Anton Siluanov, the measures announced by Mr Putin will cost an additional 500 billion rubles (£5.6 billion) over the next six years.