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No rise in salaries, pensions and social benefits is planned for next year, Finance Minister Vartan Aramian told reporters on Wednesday.

He said the most important thing for the government now is to ensure economic growth, which will eventually contribute to the rise in pensions and benefits. Before that, however, the minister recommends that people “live with hope”.

“Having hope is not a bad thing. Hopeless people, desperate people are inefficient. Generally, if society is desperate, it has fewer chances to make progress in the future, but hope without action is also problematic. That’s why we will be taking action and, I think, our society’s hopes will be fulfilled,” said Aramian.

The finance minister acknowledged the need to increase pensions and benefits, which are generally at a low level in Armenia. An average pensioner in Armenia, for example, receives a monthly pension equivalent to about $85. Asked about how pensioners can live off such a meager amount of money, Aramian said: “I don’t want to feed the public only with hopes. But it’s only been one months since we got down to work. Let’s live and see.”

Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Artem Asatrian, meanwhile, believes that while pensions and social benefits will not be raised in 2017, people’s living standards will still rise because natural gas and electricity prices will be reduced.

The official referred to yesterday’s application by Russian gas monopolist Gazprom’s Armenian subsidiary to the Public Services Regulatory Commission to lower tariffs for households and businesses by over 5 percent and provide special tariffs to socially vulnerable groups of the population as well as some types of businesses. If approved, lower tariffs may become effective as early as January 1.

MP Aram Manukian, of the opposition Armenian National Congress party, believes that the government’s failure to raise people’s incomes next year will result in a “demographic disaster”, implying that such an approach will only spur further outmigration of the working-age population that opposition groups in Armenia already claim looms large.

“The number of pensioners will increase, but budget revenues will fall,” the oppositionist concluded.

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