There are about 20 million urban poor in China, 5-6 percent of the urban population. From 1999, the central government invested in setting up a system to enable a minimum standard of living for city residents. Although the system has been a great success, problems still exist in the spiritual and psychological life of the less fortunate. This should receive the government's full attention as these people are integrated back into society.
The Guangming Daily recently interviewed Tang Jun, vice director of the Social Policy Research Center under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, on urban poverty. The text of the interview is as follows:
Reporter: When I read the Report on Chinese Urban Poor and Anti-poverty, which was published by Huaxia Publishing House, I felt sad. I know that there are many people in different fields working hard to help the needy out of poverty, including the writers of the report. As the main draftsman of the report, when did you begin to pay attention to the urban poor in China?
Tang Jun: About 10 years ago when the phenomenon of laying off workers and unemployment appeared in China. At that time, I thought that urban poverty would become a big problem and I turned my key research to the urban poor. I finished my book, Research on Poverty Line of Chinese Urban Residents in 1997. Then, there was an idea in my mind that a draft of social policy should be based on the voice of the public. We sent out 3,000 to 4,000 questionnaires to ordinary people in Shanghai, Wuhan, Tianjin, Lanzhou and Chongqing and interviewed more than 300 people randomly with in-depth questioning during the research for "Chinese Urban Poor and Anti-poverty". Some opinions came directly from the 300 volunteers we studied.
Reporter: We noticed that you mentioned in your report the concern that the system of a minimum standard of living for city residents would make people lazy.
Tang Jun: Actually, it is a misunderstanding amongst the public. In many people's minds, only those that lost their work abilities should receive aid from society. However, now 75 percent urban poor are laid-off workers, unemployed people and employees in enterprises with difficulties. They are poor because of a lack of labor opportunities. Actually most of them hope to be re-employed as soon as possible. However, with the swarm of rural workers, although they still have labor ability, the competition at the labor market made their re-employment not so optimistic.
Reporter: How are the Chinese urban poor now?
Tang Jun: Thanks to the government's policies which carry out the system of a minimum standard of living for city residents, life for the needy is protected. However, medical treatment is the biggest problem for them now. Another problem is their children's education fees. According to relevant rules, education fees of poor families should be canceled. During our investigation, we found that many places didn't carry these rules out. Some children suppress the truth of their families because of pride.
The needy's spiritual life and psychological problem should be focused on. For example, the needy usually like to exclude themselves from society because of poverty. This will enlarge the estrangement between the needy and society. The needy will get less help from society. So we should try our best to help them go back into the community.
Reporter: From 1999, about 668 cities and 1,638 counties in China have set up the system of a minimum standard of living. Could you evaluate the efforts our nation has made on anti-urban-poverty?
Tang Jun: We underestimated the urban poor at first. In 1992, government only condoled with the needy on some economic aid during festivals. In 1993, Shanghai firstly fixed a minimum standard of living line. In 1999, the line was carried out throughout the nation. In 2001, the central government invested more money on urban poverty relief and the population of urban poor who received aid from the government had increased to 12 million from 4.5 million in 1999. Till 2002, almost all 20 million urban poor were overcastted in the system. With the development of our nation, China will invest more money on the reemployment and social security.
More efforts should be done especially on the social insurance. Now we still adopt the insurance pattern in the 20th century. It arose in the middle of the 20th century and the employer had to buy insurance for all his employees. Now it is not fit for the developing society. We have to work hard to find better insurance pattern for nowadays society.
The system of a minimum standard of living is not simply a temporary policy. It is the "last safety net" in an unripe social security policy and greater effort should be made on perfecting the protection system including medical treatment, housing and education.
(China.org.cn translated by Wu Nanlan, July 12, 2003)