State safety net to open wider

(Shanghai Daily)
Updated: 2006-10-13 10:24

China plans to nearly double its social-security coverage by 2020 and build more low-cost apartments in its biggest cities as part of the state's new campaign to create a harmonious society.

The government will improve its national welfare system to provide retirement pensions, medical expenses and unemployment protection for at least 1 billion citizens by the end of next decade, the Communist Party of China said in a statement issued by Xinhua news agency late Wednesday.

The country's basic social-security network benefited nearly 558 million people at the end of last year, or 43 percent of the country's population, according to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.

The national-level social security fund topped 230 billion yuan (US$29 billion) in value at the end of September, a level economists believe is too low to meet social security obligations for an aging population.

The government may need to pay pensions for an estimated 200 million people who will retire by 2035, according to World Bank estimates. The pension gap is likely to rise to 2.5 trillion yuan by then, industry analysts forecast.

In an effort to boost capital for pensions, China is studying plans to require state-owned enterprises to transfer part of their holdings to the national fund when they list stocks publicly.

Meanwhile, the State Council, China's Cabinet, has authorized the social security fund to invest in overseas financial markets in a bid to help boost returns.

The CPC's statement came on the heels of a four-day plenary session of the Party's Central Committee, the top decision-making body, which ended on Wednesday. The key focus of this year's meeting was on setting up a fairer social system.

The Party has pledged to enhance government public services, increase employment and reduce the yawning gap between rich and poor as part of a campaign to enhance social equity and justice.

As part of the effort, Beijing plans to build 210,000 low-cost apartments with combined floor space of 15 million square meters by 2010 to meet rising demand from low- and middle-income families.

Nearly 110,000 housing units comprising 8 million square meters will be built before the 2008 Olympic Games, the Beijing government said.