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Enhancing Basic Social Assistance to Eradicate Extreme Poverty

By CPC Leadership Group of the Ministry of Civil Affairs Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2020-09-18

Basic social assistance is an essential institutional arrangement for winning the fight against poverty, and represents the last line of defense in this fight. For basic social assistance to be effective, we must ensure that not a single family falls through the cracks and not a single person is left behind in efforts to pull vulnerable groups out of poverty. Civil affairs departments at all levels must bear this political responsibility as they serve and support the broader fight against poverty and contribute to achieving the goal of building a moderately prosperous society on schedule. 

I. Adjusting and improving policies and measures for basic social assistance in order to lay solid foundations for winning the fight against poverty 

Civil affairs departments have thoroughly studied and implemented General Secretary Xi Jinping's important comments and instructions regarding poverty alleviation and civil affairs work. Focusing on basic social assistance as a major political task in the fight against poverty, we have worked actively to link the rural subsistence allowance system and development-oriented poverty alleviation policies together and to guarantee that the food and clothing needs of people registered as living in poverty who fall under the scope of basic social assistance are met, thus laying solid foundations for securing a decisive victory against poverty. 

The rural subsistence allowance system and development-oriented poverty alleviation policies have been effectively linked together. 

In an effort to ensure that all those registered as living in poverty and who meet the criteria have access to assistance, the Ministry of Civil Affairs worked with relevant departments to formulate policies and measures, improve systems and mechanisms, enhance coordination and verification of data between departments, and advance basic social assistance endeavors. We linked standards for rural subsistence allowances with national poverty alleviation benchmarks closely, with standards in all counties (cities and districts) nationwide reaching or exceeding national benchmarks by the end of 2017. In December 2019, people covered by rural subsistence allowances in the country received an average of 5,336 yuan per year. Meanwhile, these allowances averaged 4,697 yuan per year in 22 provinces facing heavy tasks in the fight against poverty, 4,199 yuan per year in deeply impoverished counties, and 4,068 yuan per year in counties belonging to the "three regions" (the Tibet Autonomous Region, Tibetan ethnic areas in Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan provinces, and the four prefectures of Hotan, Aksu, Kashgar, and Kizilsu in southern Xinjiang) and "three prefectures" (Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan, Nujiang Lisu Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan, and Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu). Subsidies for extremely impoverished people living on basic assistance were maintained at a level no lower than 1.3 times the standard for subsistence allowances in the same area. In December 2019, there were a total of 18.57 million registered poor people covered by subsistence allowances or extreme poverty assistance. At present, 16.93 million of them have been lifted out of poverty, while 1.64 million remain in poverty. Steady steps have been taken to ensure that people covered by subsistence allowances or extreme poverty assistance are provided with adequate food and clothing. 


A care worker chats with an elderly resident of the Ningshan County Central Home for the Aged in Shaanxi Province, August 20, 2018. The county began providing centralized care to poor people who are disabled or partially disabled in 2016. This has not only allowed these people to receive good care, but also alleviated burdens on their families, enabling such families to fully engage in the push out of poverty and toward moderate prosperity. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER LIU XIAO 

Solid support has been provided to ensure basic living standards for vulnerable groups. 

We have adjusted and refined rural subsistence allowance policies in order to make sure that members of vulnerable groups who are unable to take advantage of employment support because they have completely or partially lost the ability to work can shake off poverty. To be specific, we have made it clear that registered poor households with dependent family members who cannot work due to reasons including serious disability or illness and therefore unable to register as independent households can receive subsistence allowances for these dependents. The provinces of Hebei, Liaoning, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, and Gansu have further expanded the scope of basic assistance by covering vulnerable groups under subsistence allowances. We have improved mechanisms for gradually taking people off allowances and deducting employment costs. After the average income of each family member exceeds local thresholds, registered poor households covered by rural subsistence allowances are given a gradual period of exit from the poverty list before they are completely taken off subsistence allowances. Essential employment costs incurred by beneficiaries of subsistence allowances when they go to work or participate in poverty alleviation initiatives, such as meal and transportation costs, have been appropriately deducted in the calculation of their household income in order to encourage them to actively seek employment. Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Jilin, and 11 other provinces have taken further steps to set clear timeframes for gradually taking people off subsistence allowances, thus giving them more motivation to work. We set up mechanisms for dynamically adjusting dual disability subsidies that have benefitted 10.7 million poor disabled people and 13.5 million severely disabled people. 

Support for people living in extreme poverty has been further strengthened. 

It is very important that effective support is provided for individuals living in extreme poverty that have no ability to work, no source of income, and no one legally responsible for taking care of them. In recent years, civil affairs departments have continuously standardized the task of identifying individuals living in extreme poverty, rationally formulated support standards, and brought everyone that meets the criteria for being designated as living in extreme poverty under the coverage of assistance. We have accelerated the construction and renovation of rural service facilities for extreme poverty assistance (and eldercare facilities) in deeply impoverished areas including the "three regions" and the "three prefectures," and raised the service quality of these facilities and their capacity to meet basic needs. We have encouraged service providers in rural areas that are able to meet the demand for support from extremely poor individuals to gradually provide institutional care at little or no cost for elderly and disabled members of families that are on rural subsistence allowances, have low income, or are registered as living in poverty. As of December 2019, there were a total of 4.39 million individuals living in extreme poverty in rural areas throughout China, of which there were 752,000 living in institutional care and 1.07 million who were unable to provide for themselves. Over the course of the year, 34.69 billion yuan was spent on assistance for people living in extreme poverty in rural areas. 

Emergency assistance systems have effectively prevented relapses into poverty. 

With a view to preventing relapses into poverty and resolving problems in assuring the rural poor population that their food and clothing needs will be met and guaranteeing that they have access to compulsory education, basic medical services, and safe housing (referred to below as the "two assurances and three guarantees"), various localities improved emergency assistance systems by clearly defining the scope and categories of coverage, simplifying review and approval procedures, setting appropriate aid amounts, and expanding and improving the means through which assistance is provided. People who lapsed back into poverty were promptly given emergency assistance in line with regulations, while the amount of assistance provided to them was increased appropriately according to the cause and severity of their economic disadvantage through methods including one-time approval and phased assistance. Category-based assistance, priority assistance, and special assistance measures were implemented to intensify the provision of emergency assistance for people registered as living in poverty. Inner Mongolia offered special assistance to registered poor families with spending obligations beyond their means, while Jiangxi increased emergency assistance amounts for registered poor households at a share of no less than 5%. Between January and December 2019, emergency aid was provided nearly 9.18 million times, 3.04 million of which were for registered poor people. A total of 12.8 billion yuan was spent for this purpose, with 1,395 yuan received in each case on average. 

Vulnerable groups affected by the Covid-19 epidemic have received rapid assistance. 

The sudden emergence of the novel coronavirus has put vulnerable groups at risk of lapsing or relapsing into poverty, which has in turn made social assistance task more challenging. With a view to maintaining basic living standards among vulnerable groups, civil affairs departments have earnestly implemented the decisions and plans of the CPC Central Committee and intensified assistance for groups impacted by the epidemic. Emergency assistance has been provided for groups including families on urban or rural subsistence allowances, families facing special difficulties, extremely poor individuals living on government assistance, children who remain in rural areas while their parents have to work in the cities, and children in difficult circumstances that have fallen upon hard times or struggled to survive as a result of the crisis. We have opened up express channels so that non-residents who are infected with Covid-19 or struggling to support themselves are quickly provided emergency assistance in the area where they are located. Review and approval procedures for subsistence allowances have been simplified and improved so that members of vulnerable groups who meet the requirements are brought under assistance coverage in a timely manner. We also implemented mechanisms to link social assistance and social security standards with rises in commodity prices. Since the beginning of this year, 3.71 billion yuan in temporary price subsidies have been granted to recipients of social assistance, benefitting members of vulnerable groups on 81.69 million occasions. Through these subsidies, we have worked hard to ensure that the basic living standards of vulnerable groups do not fall as a result of rising prices. 

II. Vigorously advancing basic social assistance to establish a firm bottom line in the fight against poverty 

We are now approaching victory in the fight against poverty, but there are still 5.51 million people throughout China that have not yet been lifted out of poverty, nearly two million formerly registered poor people that have already shaken off poverty but are at risk of relapsing, nearly three million people living on the margins of poverty and in danger of falling beneath it, and numerous disadvantaged groups that have lapsed or relapsed into poverty as a result of the epidemic. For many, basic support is needed to make them out of poverty. It is crucial that we coordinate the fight against poverty with epidemic prevention and control, and implement basic social assistance policies in a precise manner. 


A nurse from the department of cardiology at Jilin People's Hospital fits oxygen equipment on a patient who enjoys free basic medical care. Since 2017, the hospital has exempted recipients eligible for social assistance from paying all out of pocket medical costs within the scope of policy incurred from hospital stays. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER ZHANG NAN 

We must take action to ensure that basic needs are met. 

In an effort to fulfill the political responsibility of providing social assistance, we need to make sure that not one family falls through the cracks and not one person is left behind. The Ministry of Civil Affairs have worked with the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development to launch a program aimed at eradicating extreme poverty through social assistance. In the process, various localities are offered guidance in thoroughly implementing basic assistance policies and poor people that meet the requirements are brought under coverage in a timely manner. We must improve monitoring and early-warning mechanisms, compare information on a regular basis, and collect information on people who have not yet been brought onto social assistance that either remain in poverty, have exited poverty but are at a high risk of relapsing or are near the threshold for poverty registration. We should arrange for local civil affairs departments to conduct checks, going from house to house and person to person to understand their situation and see that policies are effectively implemented. Taking advantage of information sharing between departments responsible for social assistance and mechanisms for checking the financial status of families receiving assistance, we will identify and monitor people who could potentially require assistance and work actively to get them the help they need. We must uphold the principle of maintaining policy support for those who have exited poverty, and implement measures for gradually taking people off subsistence allowances and for income deductions, thereby consolidating and building upon our success in eradicating poverty. 

We must enhance category-based assistance in order to ensure that support goes to those who need it most. 

Vulnerable groups within the poor population including people with serious illnesses, severely disabled people, elderly people, and minors are the priority targets of civil affairs services. Since they represent the most difficult challenge in the fight against poverty, they must be given extra attention and care. The subsistence allowances of members of vulnerable groups who are still having a hard time supporting themselves should be appropriately increased according to local regulations. Special groups such as severely disabled people and people suffering from serious illnesses should be given greater assistance, and members of these groups who meet the requirement should be put on social assistance in a timely manner. We must continue to improve systems for providing living subsidies to disabled people facing financial difficulties and care subsidies for severely disabled people. Furthermore, we must ensure that disabled people living in poverty have access to care services, using multiple methods such as government purchasing of services and institutional care so that poor and severely disabled people are provided care services either at dedicated facilities or in their communities. We will fully implement assistance policies for individuals living in extreme poverty in rural areas by further refining the methods of identifying these people, making sure that people who are not able to take care of themselves and desire institutional support are given priority in the provision of institutional care, and improving care services for people living on government support outside of institutions. We must boost the capacity of support service facilities to ensure that basic needs are met, and accelerate improvements of nursing facilities. We must do better at caring for and protecting children in poor rural areas who are living in difficult circumstances or who have been left behind while their parents work in cities, refine and put into practice support policies for children that have no one to raise them, and effectively carry out efforts to increase support for orphans. 

We must adopt comprehensive measures to ensure that basic needs are satisfied. 

To provide effective basic social assistance, we must form synergy between relevant departments, leveraging the role of mechanism of joint conference between departments responsible for social assistance as well as county-level coordinating mechanisms for ensuring basic living conditions among vulnerable groups. We must fully exert the role of emergency assistance systems by further simplifying and improving review and approval procedures, promoting the establishment of reserve funds for emergency assistance in towns and townships across China, making appropriate increases to the amount of assistance provided, strengthening linkage between emergency assistance and subsistence allowance policies, and using these systems effectively to meet urgent needs and resolve crises. We must refine mechanisms for increasing social assistance and social security in line with rising commodity prices. On the basis of providing security for recipients of urban and rural subsistence allowances and people living in extreme poverty, we will bring orphans and children with no one to raise them under the scope of coverage, and raise temporary price subsidies in a gradual manner. We will closely follow and analyze the impact of the Covid-19 epidemic on efforts to eradicate extreme poverty through social assistance, thoroughly monitor and forecast instances of people lapsing or relapsing into poverty as a result of the epidemic, and promptly implement basic social assistance measures in response. We will give active guidance to social and charitable organizations as well as volunteer groups so that they can take part in providing social assistance, and properly resolve problems encountered by extremely vulnerable people on a case-by-case basis, ensuring that people in need get help. 


A technician interacts with workers at a clothing company in Hotan, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. As the fight against poverty has pushed deeper, the living and working conditions and living environments of poor farmers and herders in Xinjiang have gradually improved. Thanks to the growth of industries, there are greater opportunities to find employment and earn more money, and the lives of poor people have gotten better and better. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER DING LEI 

We must improve systems and mechanisms so that we can meet basic needs on a continuing basis. 

By the time 2020 is over, the problem of absolute poverty that has plagued the Chinese nation for millennia will finally be resolved, but the problem of relative poverty will remain for some time to come. It is therefore imperative that we continue to refine long-acting mechanisms for addressing relative poverty. While building upon the quality and effectiveness of poverty eradication efforts, we must reform and improve the social assistance system by developing a multi-tiered and multi-category support system centered on basic living assistance, special assistance, and emergency assistance and supplemented by non-government resources, and by gradually refining a multi-level support system that covers families on subsistence allowances, families living in extreme poverty, and families with low income in order to effectively resolve the "cliff effect" and the problem of only recipients of subsistence allowances being entitled to certain assistance and welfare. We should expedite legislation on social support, push the social assistance system to become more optimized, mature, and well-established, see that support for basic needs is based on laws and standards, develop long-acting mechanisms for support related to the "two assurances and three guarantees," and make the safety net for guaranteeing basic needs sturdier and more reliable. We will earnestly prepare for basic social assistance actions beyond 2020, and explore ways of developing effective mechanisms to address the problem of relative poverty. We will improve the policies of civil affairs departments regarding the welfare of children, the elderly, and disabled people, link systems more closely, and lay solid foundations for addressing the problem of relative poverty in the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025) and beyond. 

III. Following through with vigorous measures to see that we complete our objectives in eradicating extreme poverty through social assistance 

With epidemic prevention and control measures in place for the long term, advancing basic social assistance represents a major challenge for civil affairs departments at all levels. We must plan thoroughly and meticulously so that we can complete our tasks in basic social assistance and help secure a complete victory in the fight to eradicate extreme poverty. 

We must ensure that we perform our duties effectively and that basic social assistance work hits the mark. 

With basic social assistance as our top priority, we should enhance organization and leadership, conveying a sense of urgency to all levels and pushing them to take on responsibility and actively perform their duties. We should take the approach of sticking to our goal, targeting to specific problems, and being results-oriented, conduct thorough surveys and studies, strengthen supervision and guidance, and promote the precise implementation of policies for the support of basic needs so as to ensure that there are no missteps in basic social assistance. We should put areas facing heavy tasks in the fight against poverty under special oversight to ensure that duties are fulfilled, measures are strengthened, problems are resolved, and the decisions and plans of the central government are effectively implemented. 

We must channel greater support for basic needs toward deeply impoverished areas to help these areas rise from poverty on schedule. 

Focusing on deeply impoverished areas, we should continue to intensify support through policies, funding, and projects. We need to keep increasing financial support for social assistance in deeply impoverished areas. All additional central government funding for aid subsidies for vulnerable groups in 2020 will be allocated to deeply impoverished areas such as the "three regions" and "three prefectures." These areas will also be given priority in the allocation of public welfare lottery funds managed by civil affairs departments at different levels to help the construction of service facilities for the support of people living in extreme poverty. We must step up policy guidance and training of talent in deeply impoverished areas in order to aid the provision of basic social assistance in these areas. 

We must improve social assistance service capacity at the primary level, using information technology to raise working efficiency. 

We will advance the digitalization of social assistance by applying modern information technology in this field, fully implement the policy of requests for social assistance being received by a single department but processed in coordination between departments at the primary level, boost interdepartmental coordination, connect isolated departments to the information sharing network, and improve mechanisms for checking the financial status of families on social assistance. We will implement a campaign to raise primary-level social assistance capacity, and coordinate the formulation of policies and measures for the allocation of primary-level workers according to factors such as the number of people on social assistance and the staffing of organizations. We will improve conditions for social assistance workers in towns and townships (sub-districts), ensuring that their organizations have the manpower, facilities, and funds that they need so that there is someone taking care of each matter. We will refine policies and measures for government purchasing of social assistance services and encourage social forces and market entities to participate in order to expand the supply of these services at the primary level. 

We must continue improving conduct in order to provide basic social assistance with the backing of solid discipline. 

We must carry forward special administration of rural subsistence allowances. Focusing on our objectives related to the "two assurances and three guarantees" and taking precise action to combat key problems such as people missing out on benefits, form over substance, bureaucratism, and lax supervision of funds, we will rigorously investigate cases of corruption and improper conduct in work related to rural subsistence allowances, and take decisive steps to prevent the scenario of basic needs not being met from occurring. In accordance with the directive to differentiate errors in violation of discipline made knowingly from those made due to lack of experience or failed experimentation, we will look into establishing mechanisms for forgiving and rectifying mistakes while strictly and precisely enforcing accountability. This will encourage primary-level officials to act responsibly and preserve the enthusiasm of primary-level service personnel. 

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 9, 2020)