China’s human resources ministry has called on local authorities to streamline pension procedures for the many elderly citizens in certain parts of the country who are finding it increasingly difficult to access funds, state news agency Xinhua reported Monday.
Under the Chinese government’s pension system, an eligible individual must prove that they’re alive in order to access their welfare money — and this, it turns out, is a lot harder than it sounds. In some provinces, would-be pensioners are still required to return to the place that issued their identity documents, and in some cases may even be required to prove their existence by posing for a photo while holding a dated newspaper.
The ministry issued a statement on Wednesday urging local administrative units to “simplify pension procedures” and “improve the attitudes of welfare officials” after the plight of a 90-year-old man from central China’s Hubei province sparked heated discussion online, prompting several experts to weigh in on the topic. In the video, three men are seen carrying Bai Qiyong in his wheelchair up several flights of stairs to the third floor of a social insurance office in Hong’an County. Bai had traveled 100 kilometers from Wuhan for the annual ordeal, which includes officials taking his photo and fingerprints.
“The government should come up with more efficient and more convenient methods for obtaining true information instead of requiring the public to prove the authenticity of the data they provide,” Song Xiangqing, deputy dean of the School of Government at Beijing Normal University, told Xinhua.
The bureaucratic red tape, however, is not limited to smaller counties like Hong’an. Though state authorities have repeatedly demanded that local government units introduce a system that wouldn’t require retirees to “run between cities,” the policies remain largely unchanged across much of the country.
Wang Qin has been living with her daughter in Shanghai for 10 years but travels to the southwestern province of Yunnan every year to renew her pension documents. Wang, who is in her late 60s, worries about undertaking the journey each year because of mounting health concerns.
“It’s very inconvenient — the trip is long and expensive,” Wang told Sixth Tone. “I can’t imagine being 80 or 90 and still needing to travel the long distance just to prove I’m still alive.”
But some experts argue that such measures are necessary to prevent the misappropriation of government funds, as there have been numerous cases of relatives of a deceased person continuing to claim payouts from the social insurance fund. In 2015, a man in the northern city of Tianjin was arrested for claiming his grandmother’s pension for 11 years after her death, amassing nearly 200,000 yuan ($31,000).
In April, the city of Zhengzhou in central Henan province launched a two-week campaign targeting people who were continuing to receive pensions on behalf of deceased family members. Municipal authorities identified 11,966 freeloaders, from whom they recovered a combined 12.3 million yuan.
Following the ministry’s directive, the social insurance management authority of Hong’an has said it will try providing door-to-door services for senior residents who have disabilities and live outside the county.
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: An elder woman pushes a grocery trolley in Beijing, March 23, 2012. Yin Yafei/VCG)