Russia's poverty rate reaches nine-year high as crisis bites


Moscow (AFP)

Russia's recession-hit economy has propelled the country's poverty rate to a nine-year high, state statistics published Monday showed, as the country struggles to cope with a crippling economic crisis.

An average of 19.2 million Russians -- or 13.4 percent of the population -- were living last year on less than 9,452 rubles ($139) a month, the minimum subsistence level determined by the Russian government in the fourth quarter.

This figure represents a 20 percent increase year-on-year, with an average 16.1 million people living below the poverty threshold in 2014.

More Russians have been slipping into poverty on the back of the Western sanctions and low oil prices that have battered the country's energy-dependent economy and significantly diminished purchasing power.

But 2015 poverty indicators are still much lower than those from the early days of President Vladimir Putin's first term in 2000, when 29 percent of the population found itself below the poverty threshold.

Increasing poverty represents a setback for the Kremlin strongman, whose popularity had long been fuelled by the growing wealth of the Russian population as a result of high oil prices in the first decade of his presidency.

Aided by state media, Putin has managed to maintain a vertiginous approval rating in spite of economic woes, reaching 87 percent in August, according to the Levada Centre, an independent pollster based in Moscow.

But the pollster's latest data shows the population's trust in Putin has eroded, dropping 10 percent over the last year to reach 73 percent this month.

Russia's energy-reliant economy shrank by 3.7 percent in 2015 and is set to continue suffering this year.

In September, the World Bank warned against a "troubling" increase in poverty in Russia resulting from a sharp drop in the income of the most vulnerable social groups including pensioners.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev conceded in January that increasing poverty was "one of the most painful" consequences of the economic crisis.

Real wages in the country shrank 6.9 last month in comparison to the same period last year.

Retail sales were down 5.9 percent last month year-on-year.

Russia's newly-founded rating agency said Monday it did not expect economic growth until 2018.