welfare and poverty relief


welfare and poverty relief
In China, welfare or fuli evokes a rich connotation of meanings and perceptions. In the broad sense, welfare refers to benefits and entitlements associated with employment, and in particular the collective amenities provided at the workplace for urban workers. In the socialist economy, a typical occupational package included a pension, health care, housing, child care and living support and is a core part of the social wage. In the narrow sense, welfare refers to financial aid, welfare services (e.g. old-age homes, children’s homes, shelter/work for the disabled) and emergency relief for people with special needs: childless elders, disabled persons and orphans who have no ability for work, no family support and no means of livelihood (the ‘three nos’), poor households (pinkunhu), victims of natural disasters and poor veterans. The responsible agencies are state civil affairs departments and local communities. It is within the narrow perspective that ‘poverty relief’ (pinkun jiuji) is most closely associated with welfare. Indeed, the two terms are commonly used together. Poverty relief is usually given on a temporary basis; long-term or regular relief is confined to the ‘three nos’.
The old forms of welfare and poverty relief have been severely challenged by decollectivization, market liberalization and the privatization of social services (notably health care and education) which strips away collective support for peasants, unemployed state workers, employees in the private sector, and migrant workers without urban registration. In particular, rising unemployment and the erosion of welfare accompanying state-enterprise restructuring has increased vulnerability and urban poverty. In the countryside, notwithstanding remarkable reductions in rural poverty (from 250 million persons in 1978 to 30 million in 2001 according to official estimates), poverty is still a serious problem in under-developed areas and among peasants lacking social capital.
Likewise, the migration of 100 million rural workers, the lack of formal social security (see migration and settlement patterns) and the under-supply of social services have also increased rural demands for social support. Additionally, rapid aging and the one-child policy compound the pressures.
To cope with the new challenges, wide-ranging reforms have been adopted. Welfare reforms include introducing new welfare services, extending service access to paying users, expanding community services, encouraging commercial provision and promoting philanthropy. To alleviate poverty and avoid social instability, a multi-pronged approach was adopted. Rural initiatives include the introduction of micro-credit, work relief schemes and aid packages to poor regions. In the cities, the state has regularized a system of poverty alleviation comprising unemployment insurance (since 1986), living allowances for ‘laid off’ workers (from 1998) (see xiagang), and means-tested social assistance, known as the ‘minimum living security allowance’ (zuidi shenghuo baozhang) (from 1997). Social assistance is expected to serve as the final safety net. At the end of 2001, some 12 million urban residents received relief. Extension to rural areas is envisaged.
Wong, Linda (1998). Marginalization and Social Welfare in China. London and New York: Routledge and LSE.
Tang, Jun, Cook, Sarah and Ren, Zhenxing (2002). The Final Safety Net—Poverty and the Scheme of Minimum Living Standard in Urban China. Beijing: China Academy of Social Science.
LINDA WONG

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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