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
"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
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 areas.
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 security.
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
yuan (US$2,597) debt.
"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)