Social safety top concern of urbanites

By Zhao Huanxin (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-12-26 06:51

Social security has edged out employment to become the top concern of residents in urban China where a record number of jobs were created this year a top government think tank said yesterday.

Between 2001 and 2005, "lay-offs and unemployment" led the list of worries for urbanites, but they have been replaced by "social security" this year which saw a raft of cases related to pension fund misuse.

The findings were released yesterday in Beijing by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in its annual report on social development.

Based on in-home surveys in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou as well as some other cities and towns, researchers find that nearly 38 per cent of the respondents listed social security as "the social issue of most concern" for the year, followed by employment, at 32.5 per cent.

In similar annual polls from 2001 to 2005, between 39.7 per cent and 53.5 per cent listed employment as their top worry.

The findings coincided with a report from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, which said that 10.8 million jobs were created in cities during the first 11 months of the year, easily surpassing the whole-year target of 9 million.

This was the first time in many years that the figure topped the 10-million mark, meaning the country's employment support policies are yielding dividends, said ministry official Wang Yadong.

At the same time, China is building a social security net that provides urbanites with safeguards against unemployment, work injury, maternity, sickness and old age.

Support is also given in the form of subsistence allowances and housing provident funds.

The central government pledged on Saturday that starting next year, the social security net will be extended in the countryside. The system is currently being piloted in some rural areas.

The survey finds that slightly more than a third of the urbanites are not covered by social security in any form; and another third say they are benefiting from one or two social welfare schemes, such as old-age pension and basic medical care.

Yuan Yue, chairman of Horizon Research Group, said yesterday that pension-fund corruption scandals this year have made the public feel worried about social security.

"The coverage of China's social security net is limited; and there are cases where the pension funds were embezzled these are the contributing factors (that intensified the public's worries about social security)," Yuan said.

In September, suspected involvement in the 10 billion-yuan (US$1.27 billion) Shanghai social security fund fraud led to the sacking of Shanghai's top official Chen Liangyu, and later, the removal of Qiu Xiaohua as head of the National Bureau of Statistics.

The central budget has allotted nearly 186 billion yuan (US$23.5 billion) to subsidize social security and employment projects this year, up 14.5 per cent from 2005, according to Li Peilin, director of the Institute of Sociology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Partly because of the spending support, nearly 10 million more workers were brought under the umbrella against work injuries, indicated official statistics.

This may partially explain why the research finds urbanites "affirmatively" rate government efforts to improve social security.

However, the pressure on the social security system will mount in the years ahead, Li said.

For one thing, the ratio of the workforce to the retired was 20:1 in the early 1980s. It is expected to reach 2.5 to 1 by 2020, Li Bengong, executive deputy director of the China National Committee on Ageing, told a recent national meeting.

The situation has promoted central and local governments to earmark at least 50 billion yuan (US$6.3 billion) a year to pay for old-age pension alone.

(China Daily 12/26/2006 page1)

Top China News  
Today's Top News  
Most Commented/Read Stories in 48 Hours