Social welfare

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Social welfare

As in many post-Soviet states, the economic and political changes that came with the collapse of the Soviet Union led to a dramatic decline in social conditions.

Yet, according to official data, the poverty problem lost its acuteness in Belarus over the last decade, since the number of very poor people (those living below the poverty line) had a ten-fold decrease between 1999 and 2010, down to 5 per cent of the population (Belstat, 2011). In 2012 as a result of hyper-inflation, the share of people living below the nationally defined poverty line increased to 8 per cent.

Poverty still poses a serious challenge to the economy due to low levels of minimum pensions (about 100 USD in 2012) and minimum salaries (125 USD), which are not much higher than the poverty line (about 90 USD per month) (Belstat, 2012).

Second, the existing traditional system of family support additionally masks the statistics on poverty, since over 60 per cent of the population receives regular monetary or in-kind support from relatives (sharing a house with the older generation, for instance). Besides, almost 90 per cent of Belarusians are involved in some kind of natural economy, which also reduces the burden of daily food expenditures.

Finally, given the low productivity and ineffective economic management, the prices on some basic commodities in Belarus are higher than in neighbouring countries; this reduces the scope of products that people buy inside the country. In early 2012, the monthly salary in Belarus is 370 USD, one of the lowest in the region.

According to official estimates, unemployment accounted for less than one per cent in 2012. Unofficial sources give, however, give much higher figures.

The difference can be mainly explained by the fact that only those officially registered as unemployed are included in unemployment statistics. Many people choose not to register as unemployed, since, first, the unemployment benefit is very low (9 USD in 2012).

Second, registering with unemployment agency imposes certain obligations on the unemployed, such as cleaning the streets. Third, given the high tax burden, high prices and low wages, a considerable part of the population is employed in the black economy.

Finally, a growing share of the population (150,000 people annually, according some estimations) are working in neighbouring countries with higher incomes, especially Russia (85 per cent of all migrants). As wages decrease and social support programs (especially subsidized housing) are less generous, migration is an increasingly popular option. At the same time, migration procedures are becoming more relaxed and migrants can earn relatively high salaries in neighbouring Russia and Poland. 

Author: Handbook on Belarus for International journalists