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Basic welfare key to achieving common prosperity

LIU ZHENJIE | 2023-01-12 | Hits:
Chinese Social Sciences Today

Volunteers provide a health checkup for an elderly man at his home in Urumqi Municipality, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Photo: CFP

General Secretary Xi Jinping stressed that realizing common prosperity is the essential requirement of socialism and is also an important feature of China’s modernization. The nation must adhere to a people-centered philosophy of development and promote common prosperity amid high-quality development. 

Achieving common prosperity means implementing a people-centered political philosophy, ensuring equitable distribution of the fruits of development, and promoting social equity and justice. As the country pursues common prosperity, it is also necessary to understand the difficult task of ensuring people’s wellbeing, as well as the necessary scope of protection. This can help us make sensible arrangements at the policy level to deliver the promises to the people. 


The only way forward

The most formidable mission China needs to undertake before it can realize common prosperity is to ensure that people in need can enjoy the benefits of development the way most social members do. Hence, we must fully recognize the significance of safeguarding people’s livelihoods and improving the standards of living of the group in need. 

For more than four decades since the reform and opening up, China has realized its goal of helping some people in some places to become wealthy. Nevertheless, regional gaps remain, as do gaps between rural and urban areas. As of the end of 2021, according to a dynamic national platform that records information about the low-income population, there are still about 58 million low-income people in China. This shows that the problem of relative poverty still exists though absolute poverty has been eradicated in China. 

For instance, seniors, in particular those with disabilities and/or dementia, in both rural and urban areas, are in dire need of healthcare. According to the National Health Commission, about 15 million people aged 60 and above have some forms of cognitive disorder, which means there is an enormous demand for elderly care services.

Another group deserving attention is the left-behind children in rural areas. By the end of 2021, there were around nine million children left -behind with extended family in China’s rural areas as their parents participated in migrant labor, 90% of whom live in central and western regions. This population lacks parental oversight, thus face many issues with their academic performance, daily life, mental health, and in communication as they grow up. 

The development of welfare services for people with disabilities is still lagging. Many obstacles remain in building a fully integrated society for people with and without physical disabilities, and further improvement of the institutional system is needed. When people experience hardships and have trouble making a living or participating in social activities, their life quality can be affected. To make life easier for them, the Communist Party of China and the government must ensure their basic wellbeing. China needs to prioritize this practical task among other governance and social development agendas. 

It is necessary to understand that meeting people’s basic needs is a multifaceted task, requiring expansion of the basic connotations of common prosperity. General Secretary Xi stressed that common prosperity refers to affluence shared by everyone, both in material and cultural terms. It is not egalitarian, nor does it mean having relatively few prosperous people. 

To uplift the groups in need and move them off the path of difficulty to start living a decent life with dignity, we must change our service philosophy and the way we serve our people. We must expand service coverage and increase the service content to deliver support in a comprehensive, multi-tiered way. 

From the perspective of service recipients, an active basic service system should include not only special groups such as the elderly, the left-behind children, and the disabled, but also all people in need across society. Throughout a person’s life, he or she might encounter various hardships, thus China needs to make reasonable institutional arrangements within its basic social assistance plan so that those groups do not lose faith or courage in life. 

From a service evaluation perspective, on a macro level, the basic service system should feature balanced development between different industries, regions, rural and urban areas, as well as equalized access to public services. From a macro or mid-level view, our mission involves optimizing and regulating the interests of different social classes and social groups. From a micro perspective, we need to ensure payments are balanced for individuals and their families. 

Social welfare aims to ensure employment, medical services, education, elderly care, and housing, among other areas closely related to people’s daily life. 

From a social perspective, the system concerns the economy, material wealth, psychology, culture, spirituality, health, social participation, and capacity building. China’s social service network needs to cover the aforementioned areas in a multi-perspective manner to heal wounds and promote social equity and innovation. 

Path choices

The pursuit of common prosperity is a complex, arduous, and systemic social project. Building a prosperous society took Chinese people decades of hard work. Similarly, to achieve common prosperity, the Party and the country must also make a set of scientific and reasonable institutional arrangements, which will require the shared efforts of the entire nation. During this long social process, the country must undertake effective measures to meet the basic demands of those in need.

We need to make the “pie” bigger through economic development, which will help sustain social assistance for people in need. A steadily growing economy is the material base for guaranteeing a basic quality of life, improving people’s welfare, and eventually achieving common prosperity. 

Specifically, we need to make full use of financial instruments and policy levers to stabilize the economy and stimulate growth. We need to enhance supportive policies to facilitate work and production resumption and help steer the economy back to normal. We should let the Belt and Road Initiative play a leading role in trans-regional compensation between the eastern, middle, and western regions, in a bid to gradually reduce regional disparities. While securing ecological conservation, we also need to implement the rural revitalization strategy, and develop the cultural tourism industry by leveraging local advantages. Meanwhile, when investing resources, it is important to avoid the adverse trend of “elite capture.” [Elite capture is a form of corruption whereby public resources are biased to benefit a few individuals of superior social status.]

In addition, we need to increase support for county-level economies, the pillar of local economies. In particular, we need to support small and micro businesses, ease their burdens, and help them ride out difficult times. We need to make greater investments in infrastructure for elderly care, medical services, and education. As we fuel economic growth, we also need to significantly improve people’s quality of life, physical fitness, and cultural quality. 

It is important to boost the quality and efficiency of basic welfare, so that those in need can fully enjoy the results of common prosperity. We need to follow the hierarchical classification principle as we optimize the way we provide social assistance according to region and guide various non-state actors to contribute supportive resources. We can deliver targeted and customized support by distributing materials, cash, and services in a coordinated way. Meanwhile, we should ensure a basic quality of life for low-income people, people in exceptional poverty, and orphans by increasing transitionary support. We also need to implement the dynamic adjustment mechanism to subsidize care for elderly people and people with disabilities. In addition, it is important to promote full coverage of prefecture-level city mental health welfare institutions to assist those with underlying mental health conditions or depression to recover. 

We need to establish a humanistic funeral service system, and ensure safe and respectable resting places for the deceased. With door-to-door services or elderly meal services, we can fulfill basic daily life demands, especially three meals a day, for people at an advanced age, the incapacitated, those living with dementia, and seniors living alone. 

Insurance for long-term care is also needed, namely programs that focus on seniors and children with severe disabilities. The latter group requires care throughout their entire life, which can be a heavy burden for their families. Between senior long-term care insurance and insurance for children with severe disabilities, insurance for children with disabilities is the more urgently needed. Therefore, we need to put in place a screening mechanism to locate those in need, utilizing big data to intervene and offer timely assistance. This means the policy should look out for those in need instead of having them seek support. Meanwhile, we should continue implementing the rural revitalization strategy, consolidate the results of poverty elimination, and prevent new poverty issues from surfacing.

We need to allow the “three-tier distribution” method to fulfill its role as a coordinated regulator, which can promote common prosperity. By paying attention to the respective functions and values of each tier of social wealth distribution, we can fully interpret the interactive relationship between the government, the market, and society. Thus, we can provide stable, abundant, and multi-sourced momentum for gradually achieving common prosperity. 

Although people’s basic needs cannot be fulfilled purely through marketization mechanisms, the market still has a big role to play. Therefore, as the government continues to play the leading role in this regard, and as the efficiency of governmental resource allocation continues to improve, it is also essential for the market mechanism to function as a regulator. Experts advise the government to purchase services, so that the government and the market serve as two different kinds of resource allocation mechanisms, allowing both to play their part in meeting people’s basic needs. We should carry forward the excellent cultural tradition of helping each other in times of difficulty, as we foster a charitable atmosphere to develop public benefits and philanthropy. By launching charity activities broadly we can further improve social wealth distribution. 


Liu Zhenjie is a research fellow from the Institute of Social Welfare and Social Progress at the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

Edited by WENG RONG