Today, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and China’s Development Research Center of the State Council (DRC) hosted a dissemination workshop on a joint social welfare study entitled “Establishing an Integrated, Equitable and Inclusive Social Welfare System.” The workshop presented main findings of the research project, by examining current situation, causes, and implications of China’s fragmented social welfare system. The project also highlights local and international experiences in integrating welfare systems and provides policy recommendations for fragmentation issues.
Mr. Zhang Laiming, Vice President of DRC, and Mr. Alain Noudéhou, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in China, gave opening remarks at the dissemination workshop. Mr. Zhang emphasized that strengthening the social welfare system is important for building a harmonious society. Stressing the importance of paying attention to public sentiment, he also noted stakeholders must come to a consensus regarding the welfare system and related reforms in accordance with national needs.
Mr. Noudéhou said that China is rapidly aging and urbanizing. With the world’s largest internal migration in history, China has an increasing demand for an integrated and equitable social welfare system. From the South-South cooperation perspective, he claimed that research and development of Chinese welfare system can eventually benefit other developing countries facing similar challenges.
During the year-long project, the research team reviewed the historical development and status quo of China’s social welfare system, selecting Guangdong, Heilongjiang, and Gansu provinces to implement in-depth surveys. The report focuses on four, high-priority social welfare programmes that are closely related to China’s current socio-economic development, namely compulsory education, health care, old-age pension, and social assistance.
Two supporting reports examining the evolution of social welfare systems in Europe and in selected East Asian countries and regions were also commissioned.
The report identifies the highly decentralized welfare funding mechanism as a major cause of China’s fragmented social welfare system, calling for system reforms. It is imperative that central and provincial governments’ increase expenditure on welfare. Such reforms will not only improve the social rights of the floating population, but also advance the social welfare system and promote public service equality.
It is also stressed that the state, market, and society, including individuals and households, should share responsibilities when it comes to changing the welfare system. All parties involved must commit to working together to improve the welfare system’s effectiveness, efficiency, inclusivity, and sustainability.
Other recommendations from the report include introducing a universal, integrated, and multifunctional social security identity card complemented by a nation-wide social protection information system. The latter would allow efficiency in accessing personal information on health care, old-age pension, and social assistance.
The report and workshop also suggested that the government should set up an old-age income guarantee system with three key pillars: basic pension, supplementary pension, and employment and other income which includes financial support from family members. The last pillar should play a key role in ensuring old-age income, so as to maintain the Chinese tradition of providing care within families.
As a closing remark, Mr. Ge Yanfeng, Director-General of DRC’s Research Department of Social Development, pointed that while there is an overall consensus on moving towards social welfare system integration, there are considerable divides when it comes to selecting concrete solutions for addressing many of the specific fragmentation issues. Further research is essential to inform the decision-making process.