Russian pension reform affects vulnerable age group of over-50s

FILE - in this file photo taken on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, a woman holds a poster showing the raise in the pension ages from 60 to 65 for men and to 63 for women, up from 55 during a rally protesting retirement age hikes in front of the Russian State Duma, the Lower House of the Russian Parliament in Moscow, Russia. The hike in the retirement age was long overdue in Russia. The country's ageing population and a shrinking workforce means that the government spends more and more on pensions every year. This year alone, Russia is earmarking 3.3 trillion rubles ($48 billion) on old-age pension, which is even higher than Russia's defense spending. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

MOSCOW (AP) — When 52-year old accountant Marina Grigoryeva was laid off this year, she figured that at least she would be eligible for a state pension in three years’ time. But measures announced by President Vladimir Putin last week mean that Grigoryeva, who has been looking for a job for over six months, will have to wait eight years instead.

A planned hike in the retirement age yanks away the safety net for millions of Russians in their 50s, core Putin supporters who struggle to hold down a job, let alone find a new one, and have come to rely on pensions as a meagre but secure source of income at a time of economic uncertainty.

“You can’t get by on the benefits at all,” said Grigoryeva, who has worked for the Moscow City Telephone Network for nearly 30 years. She is entitled to $73 a month in unemployment benefits, which is half what the government says is the minimum subsistence level.

And it’s only a tenth of the average salary in Moscow, where she lives.

A recent opinion poll shows Putin’s approval ratings crashed this summer following the announcement of the pension reform, while an increasing number of Russians say they are ready to take to the streets to protest it.

The president even made a televised address to the nation to explain the need for a higher retirement age and announce some concessions.

Putin had initially tried to keep a distance from the politically sensitive proposal.