Will higher pension age help curbing Social Security Fund deficit in Belarus?
The Belarusian economic authorities are considering three options for a gradual increase in the retirement age in Belarus. The revision of the retirement age has been postponed thanks to a gradual rise in the seniority requirement for obtaining benefits by age. The Social Security Fund deficit and the lack of budget resources do not leave the choice for the Belarusian authorities, who are likely to adopt one of the options to raise the retirement age as of January 1st, 2017.
The Belarusian authorities are considering three options for a phased increase in the retirement age in Belarus. The basic option is to increase the retirement age for men from 60 years to 65 years for women - from 55 years to 60 years. Phased scheme involves an increase in the retirement age by six months during 2017- 2026. The third alternative envisages raising the retirement age by three years for men and women or by five years for women and three for men.
Currently, the retirement age issue has been postponed by introducing a gradual increase in the length of service required for a retirement pension. Since January 1st, 2017, the length of service required for a pension will be increasing by six months each year. In 2026, retired workers will receive a seniority pension if they worked for at least 20 years. In addition, the authorities have deterred readjusting the pension size by inflation rate. In December 2015, the real size of pensions decreased by 5.2% compared with December 2014. That said, the inflation rate falls far short of the devaluation of the national currency.
The need to raise the retirement age is due to an expected deficit of Social Security Fund, which provides pensions. In late 2015, the SSF deficit totalled USD 215 million, but it was offset by previously accumulated funds. As of January 1st, 2016, there were 2.6 million pensioners in Belarus, or 27.3% of the total population. Each month the government spends circa USD 400 million on pensions. Due to the demographic situation in Belarus, the proportion of pensioners will continue to increase, while the number of employed will reduce. In order to address this growing imbalance, the government either has to reduce pensions or to increase subventions from the state budget to the SSF. The average pension in December 2015 in Belarus totalled USD 153, i.e. there is no much room for further reductions. In addition, due to budget deficit, the state budget is unable to increase subsidies to the SSF. The only option therefore is to increase the retirement age. This measure will reduce the number of pension recipients and will preserve the pension size.
Overall, due to the economic recession, the Belarusian authorities have decided to gradually raise the retirement age, which will start on January 1st, 2017. As a result, the SSF will be able to save some funds for future payments, when the number of pensioners starts growing.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.