'Don't expect big-bang social reforms' from China's CCP

'Don't expect big-bang social reforms' from China's CCP

MS WANG Xiujuan, 26, left her native north-western Gansu province three years ago to come to Beijing with her husband and daughter in search of a better life.

She took on cleaning and babysitting work, while he found a construction job. The couple now make more than twice what they used to earn, she said, declining to disclose the figure.

But Beijing does not really welcome migrant workers like them.

Since they are from Gansu, their household, or hukou, is not registered in the Chinese capital, so their daughter cannot enrol in a Beijing public school and the family does not have full access to public housing and health care here.

"We are in Beijing and can't make use of the medical insurance we paid for in our hometown. Such a waste," said Ms Wang. "Luckily, we are still young and don't have any serious illness."

With the number of migrant workers exceeding 250 million and likely to mushroom into a social problem if left untackled, many analysts are saying it is time for China's hukou system to go.

It is one of several areas of social reform that will be closely watched when the Third Plenum, or third full meeting, of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP's) 18th Central Committee starts on Saturday.

China's leaders are trying to strengthen the social security net so that the people do not set aside too much savings for health care and housing.

They are counting on domestic consumption to drive the economy in the years ahead, which means getting the people to spend more of their money.

But big-bang hukou reforms are unlikely at the Third Plenum, say observers, who believe that a breakthrough is more likely in areas such as social security.

As outlined by a proposal from the State Council's Development Research Centre, changes to allow Chinese citizens to enjoy access to benefits like health care wherever they go can become the basis for tweaking the hukou system, which ties benefits to where one's household is registered.

A social security card can be introduced so that migrant workers can have access to health care wherever they are, say observers.

"If the social security card can be used nationwide, it can provide a way out for the stagnating and difficult hukou reform," Dr Zhao Litao of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore told The Straits Times.

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