The Chinese government will expand the subsistence allowance
system to all rural poor, Premier Wen Jiabao announced at the
opening ceremony of the Fifth Session of the Tenth National
People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing on Monday.
The plan is expected to bring a poverty-stricken population of
about 23.7 million under the social security net.
"We will set up a nationwide basic minimum cost of living
allowance system this year for rural residents, which has great and
far-reaching significance for promoting social fairness and
building a harmonious society," Wen told 2,890 NPC deputies
assembled at the Great Hall of the People.
NPC deputy Fu Qiping, a village head from Ningbo, Zhejiang
Province, said the government's decision to cover all the rural
poor under the social security net represents a "big step in
poverty alleviation for the vast rural population."
About 23.65 million rural residents living in "abject poverty"
in China by the end of 2006 with an annual per capita income less
than 683 yuan (US$ 87.6 according to statistics of the State
Council Leading Group of Office of Poverty Alleviation and
Premier Wen said all local governments should set reasonable
eligibility requirements for the allowances and a reasonable
allowances level based on local conditions.
"Areas with financial difficulties will receive appropriate
assistance from the central government budget," Wen said.
According to Wu Jianmin, spokesman of the annual session of the
CPPCC National Committee that opened on March 3, an annual funding
of six billion yuan (US$780 million can make nationwide rural
subsistence allowance system possible, given the annual average
subsistence allowance of 300 yuan (US$39 in 2005 among pilot
Experts believed that extending the subsistence allowance
network to all rural poor would entitle them to the benefits of the
country's economic boom, and help narrow the disparities between
cities and rural areas.
Rural residents' per-capita basic income is only one third of
the per-capita disposable income of urbanites in China. Considering
the social security system urban citizens enjoy and the rural
farming cost, the real income gap between urban and rural
population can mount to five to six times.
"The rural poor are the most vulnerable population who must be
taken care of in the country's drive to build a harmonious society,
" said Fan Gang, director of the National Economic Research
China's social security system has covered the majority of urban
citizens, while migrant workers in cities and rural dwellers, who
risk accidents and diseases, are not under the umbrella of social
The 44-year-old Hou Zhengyun from Weiyao Village of Tianying
County in Anhui Province has tasted the plight of lacking
subsistence allowance. Years of suffering from bronchitis and
pneumonia have cost her an annual medical cost of 3,000 yuan
(US$390 against a meager yearly income of 4,000 yuan (US$519 from
the three-mu (0.2 hectare) farmland.
Without a subsistence allowance, her family of a crippled
husband and two drop-out daughters shouldered over 20,000
"We must not leave the rural population of some 900 million
outside the dynamic economic development drive. Prosperity should
be shared by all social members who have contributed a lot to the
reform," said Fan Gan.
In particular, the allowance will help those who have lost their
farmlands to development projects, he said.
Forty million farmers have lost their land over the past decade
due to urbanization, with another 15 million to suffer a similar
fate over the next five years, according to a report from the
Ministry of Labor and Social Security in July, 2006.
(Xinhua News Agency March 5, 2007)