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Urban Poor Receiving Cash Help

All levels of government have teamed up to dole out more than 7.1 billion yuan (US$855.42 million) during the first half of this year to help more than 21 million Chinese urban residents who are living below the minimum standard of living.

Statistics released recently by the Ministry of Civil Affairs showed that the country's average per capita monthly stipend was 55 yuan (US$6.63).

The 231-yuan stipend issued in Beijing (US$27.8) was the highest average per capita monthly allowance of all provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions.

Shanghai ranks second with 138 yuan (US$16.63), while the lowest figure was 35 yuan (US$4.22) in north China's Hebei Province.

With a pilot program started in Shanghai in 1993, the basic living allowance has now spread across China and stands as the most basic form of governmental social assistance.

The minimum standard of living varies in different regions, depending on the local costs of living. All urban households with a per capita income below the standard are eligible for the stipend.

Over the past three years, official investment in the program has witnessed rapid increases, with contributions from central and local governments totaling only 3.76 billion yuan (about US$453 million) in 2000.

Urban poverty mainly is considered to stem from enterprise restructuring about 10 years ago, when the phenomenon of laying off workers and unemployment appeared in China.

"They are poor because of a lack of job opportunities,'' said Tang Jun, vice-director of the Social Policy Research Center under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said.

According to Tang, 75 per cent of impoverished urban residents are laid-off workers, unemployed people and employees in troubled enterprises.

However, an incursion of rural workers into the labor market in the cities have made prospects bleak for those seeking to return to the workforce.

But the government's policies to raise the minimum standard of living for city residents, guarantees that a basic living allowance for the needy will be provided, said Tang.

"However, medical treatment is the biggest problem for those people now,'' said Tang. "And another problem is education fees for their children.''

According to relevant rules, education fees for children from impoverished families should be cut or waived.

"But during our investigation, we found that many places didn't enforce these rules and some children hide the truth from their families owing to self-esteem issues,'' said Tang.

(China Daily July 28, 2003)

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