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Social program spending to rise

THE central government said yesterday that it will increase spending by nearly 18 percent this year on social programs such as pensions and medical care.

"The more difficulties we face, the greater attention we should pay to ensuring people's wellbeing and promoting social harmony and stability," Premier Wen Jiabao said in a government work report at the annual session of the National People's Congress in Beijing.

The central government plans to spend 293 billion yuan (US$42.84 billion) on the social safety net this year, up 17.6 percent from the estimated figure for last year.

"Local governments will also increase funding in this area," Wen said.

The funds will help "expand coverage for social security programs" and "increase social security benefits," the premier said.

The government will allocate an additional 850 billion yuan over the next three years to ensure progress in the reform of its medical and health care system.

Economists said the lack of health insurance and social security is holding back China's economic development and government efforts to spur domestic demand, as wary citizens are piling money into saving accounts to ensure against possible job losses, illnesses and retirement.

China has to invest 5.74 trillion yuan by 2020 to build a comprehensive social welfare system, according to a government think tank report.

The amount will cover all pensions, education, health care, housing, employment issues and aid to rural residents and migrant workers, the foundation said in a report. Spending in the next three years will top 2.6 trillion yuan, the report said.


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