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Accelerating the High-Quality Development of Social Assistance

By CPC Leadership Group of the Ministry of Civil Affairs Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2022-07-12

Social assistance is designed to provide for the basic wellbeing and essential needs of vulnerable people. It is a fundamental institution that helps guarantee basic living standards, promote social fairness, and ensure social stability, as well as an undertaking that embodies both the fundamental purpose of the Communist Party of China (CPC)—wholeheartedly serving the people—and the strength of socialism with Chinese characteristics. President Xi Jinping has paid close attention to promoting high-quality development of social assistance programs. In his remarks to the 28th group study session of the Political Bureau of the 19th CPC Central Committee and on other occasions, he has stressed the need for particular care, compassion, and consideration for people living in difficulty; for social policies that meet people's basic needs; for the inclusion of rural social assistance schemes in the overall plans for rural revitalization; and for deeper social assistance reform, so as to create an efficient and integrated multi-level, category-based system with full coverage. 

I. Historic achievements in the development of China's social assistance 

The CPC has always attached great importance to ensuring basic public wellbeing and social assistance. Over the past 100 years, it has put the people above all else and poured care, passion, and energy into the development of social assistance. Since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at its core has afforded increased importance to developing the social assistance system, issuing a range of decisions and plans that have shifted social assistance work into high gear. As a result, a multilevel and category-based social assistance system with Chinese features covering both urban and rural areas has taken shape, and great achievements have been made in conducting social assistance. 


Two children confer over their Spring Festival drawing at a daycare program in the New-Era Cultural Center in Guantang Community, Yaogou Township, Jiangsu Province, January 22, 2022. Yaogou Township launched a daycare program to provide children left at home by their migrant-worker parents with an environment for reading, studying, and pursuing creative activities like painting and calligraphy during the winter vacation. XINHUA / PHOTO BY XU CHANGLIANG 

Breakthroughs in institutional reform 

In 2014, the State Council promulgated the Interim Measures for Social Assistance. This was the first set of administrative regulations to define the social assistance system based on eight schemes—subsistence allowances, severe hardship assistance, disaster relief, medical assistance, education assistance, housing assistance, employment assistance, and temporary assistance—which are supplemented by non-governmental resources. In 2020, the general offices of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council issued the Guidelines on Reforming and Improving the Social Assistance System. These guidelines provided an overall design and systemic plan for reform and innovation in the social assistance system both at present and in the period ahead. Social assistance has thus been transformed from a set of stand-alone programs into a comprehensive system. The schemes for basic, special, and temporary assistance have been continuously improved, forming a tightly woven net for ensuring the basic needs of people in difficulty are met. Under the subsistence allowance scheme, people with severe illness or disability from families near the eligibility threshold now qualify for allowances under the category of a single-person household; and regulations have been introduced to deduct employment costs incurred by beneficiaries and to withdraw allowances gradually when income thresholds are exceeded, thus ensuring coverage for everyone in need. The severe hardship assistance scheme incorporates city residents from the "three no's group" (no income, no ability to work, and no family support) and rural residents in the "five guarantees" program (covering food, clothing, housing, medical care, and burial services) and rationally defines standards for categorizing people facing severe hardship to ensure they all receive support. The temporary assistance system functions as the bottom layer of assistance; towns, townships, and urban sub-districts have established temporary assistance reserve funds, which provide preliminary assistance in small sums to quickly address unexpected and urgent difficulties, extending emergency relief to everyone who requires it. In 2021, more than 46.8 million people in need in China received subsistence allowances or severe hardship assistance, and temporary assistance was provided on 10.89 million occasions throughout the year. 

Poverty alleviation through basic social assistance 

Basic social assistance is one of the five pathways for poverty alleviation, along with increased production, relocation, ecological compensation, and education. Implementing the decisions and plans of the CPC Central Committee for winning the battle against poverty, we promoted linkages between the rural subsistence allowance scheme and poverty alleviation policies, and harnessed temporary assistance as a means of guaranteeing the food and clothing needs of people in poverty as well as their access to compulsory education, basic medical services, and safe housing. We kept rural subsistence allowance standards in all counties and county-level cities and districts nationwide dynamically in line with or above national poverty alleviation benchmarks. Subsistence allowances and severe hardship assistance covered a total of 19.36 million registered poor people—19.6 percent of all people lifted out of poverty—thus accomplishing the tasks for alleviating poverty through basic social assistance. This represented an important contribution to the victory against poverty and to the realization of moderate prosperity in all respects. Using social assistance to consolidate and expand the results of poverty alleviation, we are incorporating 2.4 million eligible people who remain in a precarious position after exiting poverty, live marginally above the poverty line, or are from households that face sudden or severe difficulties into the subsistence allowance and severe hardship assistance schemes. 

Steady increases in assistance levels 

In recent years, the state has boosted support for the public wellbeing and increased investment in social assistance on a consistent basis. It has refined the mechanisms for adjusting social assistance standards in line with economic and social development and rising living standards, and for linking improvements in social assistance and social security standards with price increases. The result has been gradual improvements in the level of basic social assistance benefits for people in difficulty. Since the 18th National CPC Congress, the cumulative expenditures on basic living assistance at all levels of government have exceeded two trillion yuan, assistance benefits have been increased each year, with subsistence allowances in cities and rural areas registering increases of 100 percent and 200 percent respectively, while severe hardship assistance payouts are 130 percent or more of the local subsistence allowance standards. 

Comprehensive strengthening of governance capacity 

We improved the working mechanism under which Party committees exercise leadership, governments assume responsibility, and civil affairs departments lead initiatives in close coordination with other departments and with participation of non-governmental actors. We established a nationwide inter-ministerial meeting system for social assistance, set up a coordinating mechanism for ensuring the basic needs of people in difficulty at the county level, and bolstered resource coordination and interdepartmental collaboration in order to generate synergy. We improved mechanisms for verifying the financial status of families receiving assistance, and advanced a nationwide verification database to improve the precision of social assistance efforts. In 2021, verifying agencies were entrusted with carrying out 189 million verification checks. We innovated the working mechanism for facilitating non-governmental participation in social assistance and developed efficient link between government assistance and charitable aid. We carried out performance evaluations on a continuing basis, implemented a campaign to improve the rural subsistence allowance system, and continued to tackle instances of corruption and misconduct that directly affect the public. 

Notable improvements in service efficiency 

We have established a nationwide platform for dynamic monitoring of the low-income population, collating information for over 60 million people on low incomes, including recipients of subsistence allowances, people in extreme hardship, people near the eligibility threshold for subsistence allowances, and households in difficult circumstances. This has allowed for the provision of targeted assistance based on the type and cause of difficulty an individual faces. We implemented a policy to have requests for social assistance be received by a single department but processed in coordination between departments, and adopted a more proactive stance toward identifying assistance targets by opening more than 3,700 social assistance hotlines at the ministerial, provincial, prefecture, and county levels. This step has provided vulnerable groups with an avenue for seeking and receiving timely assistance. In response to the Covid-19 outbreak and numerous natural disasters in recent years, we have adjusted our policies, launched a slew of new policies in a short window, and appropriately widened the scope of subsistence allowances and temporary assistance. This enabled us to provide timely assistance to people experiencing difficulties due to Covid-19 or natural disasters and to offer care services to special groups including the elderly, people with disabilities, and children. Through these efforts, we have ensured the basic living standards of vulnerable groups and demonstrated both the adaptability and vitality of China's social assistance system. 

To promote high-quality development of the social assistance system, we must uphold the centralized, unified leadership of the Communist Party of China, give full play to the role of Party organizations at every level, and coordinate efforts in strengthening the Party with the development of social assistance. We must always follow a people-centered development philosophy, taking protection of the rights and interests of vulnerable people as our fundamental goal. Making ongoing efforts in reform and innovation, we will use the method of reform and innovative thinking to resolve development problems. We will remain committed to weaving a strong safety net for people's basic needs and to serving as the last line of defense for the people's wellbeing. 

II. A new journey of high-quality development 

President Xi Jinping has stressed that there is no ultimate finishing line in the work of ensuring and improving the people's wellbeing, only a succession of new starting points. We need to adopt more targeted, more comprehensive, and more directly effective measures to achieve tangible outcomes in helping people resolve difficulties, improving the public wellbeing, and ensuring fairness for all. With more strategic approaches, more robust efforts, and more concrete steps, we will advance reform and accelerate high-quality development of the social assistance system, in order to meet the basic needs of vulnerable groups and ensure people enjoy a stronger sense of fulfillment, happiness, and security. 

Continuing to improve the social assistance system 

Continuing to implement the Guidelines on Reforming and Improving the Social Assistance System, we will further reform of the social assistance system in line with the requirements for systems integration, coordination, and efficiency. To achieve stronger coordination, we will ensure that departments shoulder their respective responsibilities, and strengthen the links between various social assistance systems and between these systems and the social insurance and public welfare systems, so as to ensure that reform will generate synergy. We will encourage the participation of non-government actors, establish a mechanism for linking government assistance and charitable aid, and promote government procurement of social assistance services. We will deepen trials on social assistance reform and innovation, use reform to tackle deep-seated problems and challenges, and use innovation to invigorate the development of social assistance. We will explore policies and measures to better ensure the wellbeing of vulnerable groups in line with the goal of common prosperity, and give greater play to the role of social assistance in promoting common prosperity, so that vulnerable groups can share in the fruits of reform and development and realize happier and healthier lives. 

Weaving a strong safety net for those in need 

We will move faster to develop mechanisms for dynamically monitoring people on low incomes and providing routine assistance and support, refine the nationwide dynamic monitoring platform for low-income groups, increase interdepartmental data sharing and verification, and ensure regular monitoring, rapid early warning, and due assistance for people on low incomes. We will further improve the basic assistance framework by making the systems for subsistence allowances and severe hardship assistance more cohesive, better standardized, more accessible, and broader in coverage. We will appropriately set and adjust assistance benefits to ensure the basic needs of vulnerable groups are met. To boost the efficiency of the temporary assistance system, we will focus on assisting people with urgent needs and difficulties, ensure responsiveness and effectiveness, and eliminate blind spots so that our social safety net is strong and well-knit. We will continue to consolidate and expand on our achievements in alleviating poverty through social assistance by keeping basic assistance policies stable during the transition period and setting up mechanisms to facilitate information sharing with the departments overseeing rural revitalization. We will resolutely prevent any large-scale return to poverty.


Residents living in difficult circumstances wear wide smiles after having received a special benefit payment for Chinese New Year in Dongyida Village, Nanxun District of Huzhou, Zhejiang Province, January 25, 2022. NANXUN DISTRICT MULTIMEDIA CENTER / PHOTO BY LU ZHIPENG 

Applying policies with precision 

Precision is essential for ensuring we have a fair and equitable social assistance system and achieve high-quality development. We will improve the measures for identifying targets of social assistance as well as the mechanisms for making accurate identifications, and refine the procedures for confirming the financial status of families receiving assistance, in order to firm up the foundation for providing assistance in a precise way. We will accurately stay up to date with the concerns, ideas, and expectations of vulnerable groups, launch comprehensive appraisals of the needs of households in difficulty, and provide basic living assistance, special assistance, or urgent assistance according to the category, degree, and features of the specific difficulties people face. We must ensure that all assistance policies are implemented to the letter, assistance targets are identified accurately, and tailored measures are adopted to achieve targeted outcomes, so that the right help is on hand for vulnerable people when they need it. 

Innovating, refining, and diversifying services 

We will step up reforms to streamline administration and delegate power, improve regulation, and upgrade services in the area of social assistance. We will enhance mechanisms for identifying those in need of help, simplify and optimize the procedures for seeking assistance, and boost the efficiency with which assistance is provided. We will create new methods to meet increasingly diverse assistance needs, develop services-based assistance, and accelerate the formation of a "material benefits plus services" assistance model. We will digitalize social assistance programs with modern information technology like the Internet, big data, AI, blockchain, and 5G, extend services to mobile devices, and roll out cellphone apps to improve the convenience of accessing assistance services. We will develop social work services and train social workers specializing in social assistance, and make a major push to foster a diverse supply of social assistance services. We will implement projects to boost community-level social assistance capacities, renew resources at the community level, place greater responsibility on and give more support to towns, townships, and sub-districts, and improve the administrative and service capacities of community-level providers, in order to remove the final hurdles in providing assistance to the public. 

Strengthening regulation to promote sound development 

Legislative work related to social assistance will be accelerated to improve the system of social assistance legislation. We will invest more in social assistance programs, tighten supervision of funding, and standardize procedures and time limits for the disbursement of funds, thus ensuring that all types of social assistance payments are made on time and in full. We will strengthen policy communication and theoretical research, commend exemplary groups and individuals who make outstanding contributions to the cause of social assistance, and strive to generate greater public interest, support, and participation in delivering social assistance. 

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 8, 2022)