Government releases document on reforming and improving China’s system of social aid

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Editor’s note

This report is an abridged and adapted translation of an article by the Charity Times (公益时报) published on the 26th of August 2020.


On the 25th of August Xinhua News published the “Opinions on Reforming and Improving the Social Aid System”, a document passed by the CPC Central Committee and the State Council. The “Opinions” states that basic living aid, special social aid and urgent social aid have to be the core of the proposed reform and improvement, supplemented by the support of the public. Only under these conditions can a comprehensive and multi-layered aid system be fully established.

Concerning “the support from the public”, the document states that four areas need to be focused on: the philanthropic sector should be further supported and developed, public engagement in social aid should be appropriately guided, voluntary services for social aid have to be facilitated and government purchases of social aid programmes need to be encouraged.

On the 26th, the Ministry of Civil Affairs published its own interpretation (解读) of the “Opinions”, which points out that the document has created four overarching plans for the social aid system. First of all, regarding the development goals of social aid, it proposes two specific development stages with detailed objectives. It aims to build up a multi-layered, well-categorized social aid system that manages cases in both the countryside and cities, and ensure that in two years, noticeable progress will be detected. It also states that by 2035 the social aid sector should have high-quality services that contribute to social equality in all areas and benefit all those in need.

Secondly, the “Opinions” states that the social aid system needs to include several layers and include different categories of services. According to the level of poverty and causes of poverty, it places aid beneficiaries into three different groups. Based on each group’s needs, basic living aid, special aid and urgent social aid will be distributed accordingly.

Thirdly, the “Opinions” proposes that social aid delivered through services should be given more attention in order to achieve innovative methods for different types of aid. Through government purchases and training to improve the professionalism of social service workers, a social network to support the needy can be set up. Finally, the Opinions highlights that promoting the equal and comprehensive development of social aid between cities and the countryside is crucial for achieving social equality. Compared to the cities, the countryside requires more effort for establishing a social aid system that can narrow the gap between urban and rural areas.

Reform is another keyword within the document. Five areas are pinpointed to undergo various kinds of reform. In both cities and the countryside, aid beneficiary groups will be extended to include people with disabilities and fatal diseases from low-income families who are not able to search for employment. The aid will also apply to immigrants to the cities in certain conditions. More content will be added to the aid response programmes. In addition to special aid programmes, the Opinions recommends that institutions carry out legal aid, memorial services, rehabilitation services for adults and children with disabilities, orphanage support services and so on. The methods of selecting the beneficiaries will also be simplified. To prove they qualify as a beneficiary, citizens living in rural villages will not need to travel to the cities to gain the certificate anymore. Local government offices in villages will gain the power to grant certificates to people who are eligible to claim social benefits.

Moreover, reforms will take place in aid and service management. The document points out that reaching out and visiting people in need should be made a priority, and a national social aid hotline should be set up. Follow-up sessions for people who are receiving social aid should be continuous, but less frequent than in the past. The “Opinions” also clearly pushes the idea of taking advantage of the Internet, big data, artificial intelligence, blockchain technology and other modern information technology to facilitate social aid services and make it more convenient for people to look for and receive help.

The “Opinions” also advocates for the importance of public participation and offers four initiatives to encourage public engagement in social aid. It expects the government to support the philanthropic sector through favourable policies, create jobs to welcome more people to the social work sector and create a good environment for people who are already in this sector, so they can be supported and equipped with the necessary skills. Various volunteer programmes will be strengthened through clear guidance and resource mobilisation, and the government will increase its purchase of social aid services to expand the supply options and improve transparency in the procurement process.