Ensuring and Enhancing Public Wellbeing in the Course of Development
The best form of governance is that which puts the people's wellbeing first. Paying close attention to and striving to ensure and enhance public wellbeing encapsulates the people-centered philosophy and manifests the original aspirations and objectives of the Communist Party of China (CPC). As President Xi Jinping has stated, public wellbeing is the greatest test of political efficacy, the improvement of public wellbeing is the fundamental objective of development, and work related to public wellbeing must be predicated on a caring attitude toward the people. He has also urged us to do more to pursue public interests and help the people solve their difficulties and to use development to strengthen areas of weakness and promote social equity and justice. In his speech at the ceremony marking the centenary of the CPC on July 1, 2021, President Xi again stressed the need to "ensure and enhance public wellbeing in the course of development," which highlighted the correct approach and provided basic guidance for work related to public wellbeing in the new era.
I. Meeting basic needs and providing a safety net for public wellbeing
The most important aspect of ensuring basic public wellbeing is meeting people's essential needs. President Xi has emphasized the need for highly focused efforts when it comes to ensuring and enhancing public wellbeing as well as earnest support for this task. Safeguarding the wellbeing of vulnerable groups, such as those on low incomes, orphans, and people in extreme poverty, is the baseline for ensuring public wellbeing. We must uphold our people-centered philosophy and resolutely ensure that people's basic needs are met. China's civil affairs departments must harness the core functions of social assistance and other policies to guarantee the basic living requirements of the people, ensure public wellbeing, and safeguard social harmony and stability. In recent years, civil affairs departments at all levels have devoted intense focus to poverty alleviation, helping vulnerable groups, and dealing with the concerns of the people. In the process, we have firmly adopted the concept of "governing and caring for the people," and dedicated ourselves to weaving a safety net to guarantee people's basic wellbeing. Our meticulous work has ensured that every vulnerable person in China feels the caring embrace of the Party and the government.
The implementation of targeted poverty alleviation was a major decision taken by President Xi, which he personally planned and oversaw. He has repeatedly emphasized that, "The moderately prosperous society China builds will be enjoyed by each and every Chinese person." In doing so, measures must be taken to "meet people's basic needs through subsistence allowance policies." Social assistance policies such as subsistence allowances are vital institutional arrangements that ensure the basic livelihoods of groups facing difficult circumstances and that safeguard social equity, and they are the last line of defense in the fight against poverty. It is imperative to rely on policy-based help to meet the basic needs of impoverished people who have partially or completely lost their ability to work and are unable to extricate themselves from poverty with industrial support or employment assistance.
Civil affairs departments are determinedly fulfilling political responsibility of ensuring people's basic needs are met and supplying the most vulnerable groups in society with what they need most. In the battle against poverty, we at civil affairs departments provided categorized assistance, implemented policies targeted at specific individuals and households, and included all the most vulnerable people who are unable to work in social assistance programs, so as to "ensure that not one family falls through the cracks and not one person is left behind" on our way to building a moderately prosperous society.
A worker interacts with a child at a public welfare center in Maoming, Guangdong Province, April 27, 2021. This center combines care, treatment, education, entertainment, rehabilitation, and special education, and is a national-level demonstration base of rehabilitation training for children with cerebral palsy. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER DENG HUA
August 16, 2021, Beijing's Shunyi District held its third professional skills competition for elderly caregivers, which was the local qualifying round for the 2021 national competition. A caregiver is seen here in a simulated scenario using a cane to help an elderly person move around. PHOTO PROVIDED BY THE MINISTRY OF CIVIL AFFAIRS
Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture in southwestern Sichuan Province used to be a deeply impoverished area. By the end of October 2020, however, all 288,000 of people previously registered as living below the poverty line in the region had been provided with subsistence allowances to meet their basic needs, thereby reliably extricating them from poverty.
In the decisive battle to overcome poverty, civil affairs departments channeled greater support toward deeply impoverished areas and greater care and assistance toward vulnerable groups, going all out to tackle the greatest difficulties and hardships. By the end of 2020, 19.36 million registered poor people were covered by social assistance and subsidies, which strengthened the institutional line of defense for guaranteeing the basic food and clothing needs of the rural poor population and pushed us closer to the goal of ensuring that they have access to compulsory education, basic medical services, and safe housing.
Although we have built a moderately prosperous society in all respects and eliminated absolute poverty in China, relative poverty will continue to exist for a long time. On the journey ahead, we must take the Second Centenary Goal as our starting point, plan ahead, and advance pragmatically. We need to establish a platform for dynamically monitoring the information of people on low incomes. We need to consolidate and expand poverty alleviation efforts to ensure that meeting basic needs corresponds with the rural vitalization program. We need to build sound mechanisms for delivering routine assistance, and continuously improve the efficacy of social assistance policies at ensuring people's wellbeing.
Vulnerable groups have always been of great concern to President Xi, who has stated, "With regard to groups in difficult circumstances, we must see that they are afforded extra consideration, compassion, and care. We must always show genuine solicitude for their wellbeing and consideration for their suffering and do everything we can to ease their difficulties and worries." "Consideration, compassion, and care," known as the "three Cs," are the epitome of civil administration serving the people. We must unhesitatingly bear the responsibility and mission of guaranteeing the livelihoods of vulnerable groups.
Civil affairs departments are continuing to improve social assistance standards, such as the provision of basic needs, assistance for the extremely vulnerable, and emergency assistance. The basic living necessities of 43.11 million urban and rural subsistence allowance recipients have effectively been guaranteed, and dynamic monitoring and routine assistance mechanisms for people on low incomes in rural areas have gradually improved. We have bolstered reforms to streamline administration and delegate power, improve regulation, and upgrade services related to social assistance. We have simplified and optimized assistance processes and made social assistance more easily accessible. We have introduced an assistance "expansion policy" to promptly assist groups facing difficulties due to Covid-19. We have established an emergency assistance fund for towns, townships, and sub-districts, with a focus on quickly solving sudden, urgent, and temporary difficulties in the lives of urban and rural residents. In 2020 alone, 13.81 million people benefited from this type of emergency assistance. Bearing in mind the importance of the "three Cs," we must further improve the social assistance system, improve mechanisms for timely adjusting basic living assistance payouts and checking the financial status of recipients, and optimize the supply of assistance services, to convey to vulnerable people the sincere compassion of the Party and the government.
Orphans and other children in difficult circumstances are a vulnerable group, and it is the duty and obligation of civil affairs departments to ensure their healthy upbringing. Under the care of President Xi, China's child welfare system has gradually improved, and levels of assistance have continuously risen. Civil affairs departments at all levels are strengthening assistance given to orphans and other children in difficult circumstances, promoting improvements to child welfare institutions, and ensuring children who have no one to raise them are given state assistance. We have also established a system of services for children who remain in rural areas while their parents work in cities and protection mechanisms for minors, and there is now dynamic management of information pertaining to children left behind in rural areas, ensuring the provision of targeted services. Civil affairs departments are pushing ahead with the construction of county-level facilities for minors and implementing dedicated projects for children in rural areas, such as the "joint guardianship and accompanied growth" project. More than 56,000 child supervisors in towns, townships, and sub-districts and 675,000 village and household child officers have formed an army of caregivers who look after minors, including children left behind by migrant-worker parents and other children in difficult circumstances in rural areas.
Disabled people need our extra care and attention. In accordance with President Xi's entreaty to "ensure the vast number of disabled people live and work in peace and contentment, have adequate food and clothing, and live good and happy lives," civil affairs departments have introduced daily necessity and care subsidies for disabled people (which have benefited 11.9 million and 14.6 million people, respectively), a mechanism for timely adjusting payment thresholds, and a system for trans-regional subsidy applications. We have launched care services for severely disabled people living in poverty and promoted a project providing health services, such as surgical operations and assistive devices, to poverty-stricken people who have severe disabilities. Civil affairs departments have overseen the construction of mental health welfare institutions and promoted government procurement of community rehabilitation services for mental disorders. As a result of this initiative, the lives of disabled people who face difficult circumstances are more stable and secure, severely disabled people receive better care, and there is a growing atmosphere throughout society of wanting to care for and help disabled people.
The continuous improvement of the living standards of special groups, including the vulnerable, children in difficult circumstances, and disabled people, is a prime demonstration of the strengths of socialism. It is also the duty and mission of civil affairs departments. As we forge ahead on our new journey, we must do our best to ensure that the protection and improvement of people's livelihoods is built upon the foundations of economic development and financial sustainability and focus on having social assistance that satisfies essential needs, is inclusive, and ensures basic living standards. This will guarantee the sustainable improvement of basic public wellbeing.
II. Improving and expanding services related to basic public wellbeing
Services are the most fundamental link in supporting basic public wellbeing, as they are the final step in the implementation of policies on public wellbeing. As President Xi has said, "We must start by addressing the most practical issues of greatest and most direct concern to the people... and comprehensively improve our ability to contribute jointly to and share the benefits of public services so as to meet the diverse wellbeing requirements of the public and weave a sturdy social safety net." Services related to basic public wellbeing, such as elderly and community care, affect innumerable households; therefore, they are a basic necessity and also practical issues of public and social concern. It is necessary to focus closely on pressing difficulties and problems that are of great concern to the people, keep a close eye on issues with services related to basic public wellbeing that people care about, and continuously improve the methods and quality of wellbeing services, so as to strengthen people's sense of fulfillment, happiness, and security.
Newly married couples hold up calligraphy of the character for good fortune at a collective wedding ceremony, June 27, 2021, Jiaozhou, Qingdao, Shandong Province. A total of 137 couples took part in the simple yet romantic ceremony that exemplified how cultural-ethical advancement is affecting weddings in the new era. PEOPLE'S DAILY / PHOTO BY WANG ZHAOMAI
China has the largest elderly population in the world, but there is still a gap between elderly care services and the expectation of the elderly to live happily in their old age. President Xi previously emphasized the need to focus on work related to China's aging population: "We must develop the elderly service industry, develop systems, standards, facilities, and human resources for the elderly service industry, and build an elderly care service system based in people's homes, supported by communities, supplemented by institutions, and integrated with medical care to better meet the care service requirements of the elderly." China's ability to adapt to its aging population will have a bearing on its overall development and the wellbeing of hundreds of millions of people. We at civil affairs departments must deeply comprehend the guiding principles President Xi has set out, and work actively with relevant departments to promulgate specific policies on liberalizing the elderly service market, increasing spending on elderly services, and strengthening supervision of such services. We must formulate national and industry standards on the construction of facilities, service quality, and service safety, increase the supply of elderly care services, and drive the diverse development of the elderly care service industry. We must take dedicated steps to improve the service quality of nursing homes across the country, boost reforms to streamline administration and delegate power, improve regulation and upgrade services in the elderly service sector, strengthen support for land use policies and tax incentives, and encourage and guide private entities to participate in the development of elderly care services. Thanks to the hard work of various parties, China now has 340,000 elderly care service institutions and facilities, the basic elderly care service system has gradually improved, an elderly care service system that is coordinated with families, communities, and institutions and that combines medical and health care has been initially established, and a development pattern of elderly care services that is led by the government, relies on the market, and has extensive participation by society and families has taken shape.
Residential communities may be small, but they connect thousands of households together. President Xi has explained the need to reform and innovate, improve community-level governance, strengthen community service capacity, and provide the public with more tailored services. The profound changes that are taking place during China's economic and social development mean that demand for community services is increasingly diverse and individualized, thus increasing the need to develop community services. It is essential that we adhere to a service-oriented approach, invest more resources and efforts in communities, accelerate the construction of community service facilities, attract various parties to participate in providing community services, promote seamless connections between public services, services that provide convenience for and benefit the people, and voluntary services, and work collectively to develop a community service system. China's comprehensive community service facilities now cover all urban areas and over 65% of rural areas. Every day, China's more than 4 million community workers busily go about their work in residential areas, making important contributions to society. Internet Plus Community Governance Services and Internet Plus Community Commerce Services are developing rapidly, and service capacity and quality in urban and rural communities is constantly improving, meaning community problems are more readily solved and community life is getting better.
Marriage and funeral services directly affect every household. Paying close attention to these services that the public cares closely about, we at civil affairs departments are continuing to promote reform in this realm. In response to widespread public concerns, such as excessive betrothal gifts and people spending beyond their means on weddings, we have launched pilot marriage custom reforms to encourage a more rational and progressive perspective on marriage and family. This includes rolling out trans-regional marriage registration and creating a national marriage registration database to share marriage information between multiple departments. We are promoting the reform of funerals including encouraging new land-saving and environmentally friendly funerals, developing Internet Plus Funeral Services such as online tomb sweeping and offerings services during the Qingming Festival (Tomb-Sweeping Day), constructing a basic funeral public service system, and reducing or subsidizing basic funeral service fees for those in need.
On the journey ahead, civil affairs departments must further improve the system of elderly care services, raise the quality of community and social services, upgrade the service network, grow the service industry, strengthen supervision of services, optimize the supply structure, and continue to meet the diverse and multi-level needs of the people for services related to public wellbeing.
III. A concerted effort to ensure public wellbeing
President Xi has articulated the need to strive to protect basic public wellbeing by allowing people to participate in, devote themselves to, and share in the fruits of that work. Work related to public wellbeing is diverse, and it is characterized by stable, continuous, and cumulative efforts. With a population of 1.4 billion people, it is clearly difficult for the government to complete such work alone. Rather, we must rely on the public and mobilize all sectors of society, especially urban and rural communities, social organizations, and social workers, to amass a formidable, combined force capable of ensuring and enhancing public wellbeing. To achieve this, civil affairs departments must fulfill our responsibilities while shifting our focus and efforts to communities to build platforms for inclusive participation in causes related to public wellbeing.
Urban and rural community-level organizations for self-governance act as bridges between the Party and government and the people, and they are vital in ensuring public wellbeing. President Xi has explained that the resources and power to serve the people should be given to community-level organizations closest to the people as much as possible, and the influence and appeal of such organizations should be enhanced among the public. In accordance with President Xi's instructions, civil affairs departments have made great efforts to develop village and residents' committees and other community-level organizations for self-governance; continuously improved systems and mechanisms for community-level democratic management, democratic consultation, democratic participation, democratic supervision and self-generated services; ensured that villages and residents exercise their democratic rights in public affairs in urban and rural communities in accordance with laws and regulations; and fully mobilized the enthusiasm of people at the community level toward participating in efforts to ensure public wellbeing.
At Languan Village in Weng'an County, Guizhou Province, a hundred-year-old bridge connecting the village to the outside world was in disrepair. Following a consultation organized by the village committee, the villagers decided to raise the funds and repair the crumbling bridge themselves. Those who could donate gave money, and those who could work contributed their labor. The whole village worked together to build the bridge in order to extricate themselves from poverty. Workable community-level consultations like this – in which the people play the vital role of masters of the country to ensure public wellbeing – are taking place across the country all the time.
Social organizations are important forces in China's socialist modernization drive. President Xi has noted the need to improve social participation mechanisms and harness the role of relevant social organizations. There are more than 900,000 social organizations across the country involved in every area of life. Through government procurement of services and other means, they play a positive role in the provision of services that ensure public wellbeing, including elderly care and assistance, child protection, and welfare for disabled people, making them an increasingly effective force in ensuring and enhancing public wellbeing. This is particularly true of the more than 9,000 frontline charitable organizations that ardently support projects that ensure public wellbeing.
Social workers are professionals who provide the people with social services. We must build a social work platform to harness their professional abilities to serve public wellbeing. Civil affairs departments have introduced policies to encourage and support social work. We have established sound systems of training and assessment for social work professionals, guided provinces in developing social work stations in towns, townships, and sub-districts, and promoted the spread of professional and standardized social work platforms at the community level. There are currently more than 6,000 social work stations and nearly 1.6 million social work professionals in sub-districts and villages across China providing professional services to vulnerable groups in the areas of policy implementation, counseling, capacity building, and social integration, which has bolstered the forces striving to ensure public wellbeing at the community level. Thanks to the concerted efforts of our entire society, the ranks of China's volunteers are constantly expanding with 200 million registered individuals and 980,000 service teams currently active in various areas of public wellbeing, including urban and rural community services, disaster relief, and disability assistance.
Li Jiheng is Minister of Civil Affairs and Secretary of the Ministry's CPC Leadership Group.
(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 19, 2021)